Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

October 1, 2009
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Does the word ‘Black' mean anything to you? Probably not, but this simple word means the world to Oskar Schell, literally. The awe-inspiring journey of Oskar, an intelligent, nine-year-old boy living in New York City, revolves completely around the origin of a mysterious key, as written by Jonathan Safran Foer in his new novel. While Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close may appear to be the story of a little kid searching for answers to his father's tragic death, it is actually an intensely deep look into the thoughts and sentiments of a young boy in light of his greatest loss.

Jonathan Safran Foer is a Jewish novelist who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of the very widely acclaimed book, Everything is Illuminated. Foer was included in Granta's Best of Young American Novelists 2, and in 2007 he was awarded the Zoetrope: All Story Fiction prize. Currently, Jonathan is a professor in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University.

It is most likely an understatement to declare that Foer belongs in the position of a teacher in the creative writing field, because his style is so unique compared to most other authors, even in this contemporary era. Foer's style in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close extends far beyond the realms of interestingly different. Writing from Oskar's grandfather's point of view, Foer says that he “broke his life down into letters, for love [he] pressed “5, 6, 8, 3,” as he is trying to press buttons on a telephone to his wife so she can understand him (Foer 269). The seemingly insane part about this style is that for the next couple of pages the story is literally written in numbers, all individually, spelling out words for whoever is focused enough to attempt to decipher the code.

The organization of the events in the novel is probably the weakest point of Foer's writing. Jonathan writes this story in chapters, alternating narrators, between Oskar, Oskar's grandmother, and Oskar's grandfather. The fact that the author never tells the reader which of the grandparents is narrating adds somewhat of a mysterious element to the novel, but it also induces more confusion. The state of confusion only lasts for small time for the reader; after a few chapters have been read it is easier to tell who is doing the talking. While the low point is Foer's organization, it can also be considered the high point of the novel as well. Jonathan really pulls the audience into the story when out of nowhere, he writes the phrase, “Excuse me, do you know what time it is?” all by itself in the center of the page (Foer 112). His strategy in doing this is to make the reader feel what Oskar's grandfather is feeling as he is forced to write everything he wants to say, because he cannot speak. Not only does this particular style separate the novel from all others, it also makes the reader feel more connected to the characters in the story, something which is obviously an important factor to whether one enjoys a book or not.

The most awesome element that Jonathan Foer's novel displays is its abundance of philosophical ideas. It feels as if on every other page Foer asks a question or states an opinion, through a character's thoughts or dialogue, which provokes incredibly deep thought. Just one great example can be found in the important scene where Oskar is having a conversation with Abby Black's ex-husband about Black's late father. In what appears to be a simple conversation, Black makes an intense statement, saying that “Highs and lows make you feel that things matter, but they're nothing,” which also happens to sum up Oskar's entire quest perfectly (Foer 297). In this quote, the author forces his audience to think about what that statement means, not just in general but also to the reader individually. Foer also uses this saying to symbolize Oskar's realization that all of the small details he learned about so many strangers didn't matter, when in the end the key had nothing to do with any of that insignificant information.

Through a varied organizational structure and a completely unique style, Jonathan Safran Foer successfully achieved the impossible: putting emotions onto paper. Foer's wide range of syntactical choices are so different from any other novel that his work can grasp the audience's attention from the very beginning, from which he proceeds to lead them on a roller coaster of a journey, hand-in-hand with Oskar Schell, as they experience just one of many possible ways to feel. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a great read for anyone, whether their preference is an emotional drama or an adventurous journey.





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