Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer

October 1, 2009
By radius BRONZE, Plano, Texas
radius BRONZE, Plano, Texas
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If you found a strange key in the closet, would you a) Throw it away, b) Ask your friends and family about it, or c) go on an epic quest around the city to find the lock it opens. If you chose c, then you would probably fit in with Oskar, the main character in Jonathan Foer’s new book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

At first glance, the book might seem like just another just another author capitalizing on America’s obsession with September 11th. In reality, the truth could not be more different. Yes, it is set in New York in the year following 9/11, and yes, the World Trade Centers play a major roll in the plot, but they are more catalysts than drivers. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close instead follows newly fatherless Oskar Schell throughout his journey from a peculiar and introverted boy into something… else.
The entire novel focuses on Oskar’s coming to terms with his grief over his father’s death. Not only is he forced to finally move out of the past, but he must realize that he was obsessed with his father’s death to begin with. Early in the book, he begins a conversation with a limo driver on the way to the funeral over curse words. I do not believe that most people would use the phrase, “Succotash my Balzac, dipshiitake” on the way to their father’s burial, but Foer uses such conversation to subtly show just how shaken Oskar is over his past. Through his journeys, Oskar realizes just how much he really obsesses over his father, and his shell slowly breaks away. While he is still eccentric and a little too frank, Foer includes little scenes such as the one where Oskar tells his mother, “It’s OK if you fall in love again,” throughout the ending. On its own, the phrase means little, but it provides a stark contrast to his indifference or outright refusal to let anyone move on.

Even though this is only his second venture into the realm of fiction- after the critically acclaimed novel Everything Is Illuminated- Foer manages to bring his story to life through a unique writing style incorporating combination of modern writing styles from stream of consciousness to abrupt time shifts. While slightly disconcerting at first, they force the reader to pay close attention to what they are reading, and helps them discover deeper meanings in the text.
Along with the main selection, Foer utilizes a parallel story arc to emphasize symbols and metaphors in the main sections, as he did in his prior novel. In this case, between each chapter is a letter from one of Oskar’s grandparents that is addressed to either Oskar or his father. Through these letters the reader learns of their childhood, courtship, marriage, and separation prior to the birth of Oskar's father. They are also a fairly interesting side story, with the grandfather having lost his ability to speak from grief, and the grandmother who insists on such rules as that there are, “’Nothing Spaces’… nonexistent territories in the apartment in which one could temporarily cease to exist.” The unusual nature of the relationship coupled with the deeper meanings behind it makes for an interesting read, to say the very least.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a book for those who enjoy variety in their contemporary fiction. It is almost as far away from a cookie cutter mass market book as a person can find while still incorporating a compelling plot and thought provoking deeper meanings.

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