“What about little microphones? What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls?” – Jonathan Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Warning! Post may contain adult language featured within the book through quotations. If you are a younger person, please use discretion and understand what you will be getting into. As well, do understand that this review is solely on the book and not a review of the movie based on the former. Thank you!
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. The book centers around Oskar Schell, a young child dealing with the death of his father from the events of 9/11. The challenge becomes that, while needing to move on, Oskar finds what seems like a clue from his father that might lead to one last adventure. Thus finding what might be the last hunt of his father’s memory, Oskar starts a journey across New York. On his way he confronts strange people, strange ideas, and the strange connection everything and everyone has with one another.
As Oskar’s journey occurs so do the journeys of other characters, these characters far in the past and barely in the present. Letters, interviews, and flashbacks spring between chapters, becoming clearer and more prevalent to the plot as the story progresses. The reader is forced to take sides on what they read, struggling just as the characters do with issues of perspective and understanding.
So, besides the book’s summary, what do I think of the novel?
Despite giving off vibes of a mysterious adventure of a spunky kid, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close couldn’t be any more different than that. In fact, the book somehow manages to balance a dark subject with strange humor and absolutely heartbreaking stories. The writing itself seems to play around on so many ideas to get this variety of messages across- pages of scrapbook visuals, pages of just 10-20 words spread out, and even pages with words climbing desperately scramble over each other for room. Thus, while not only describing to readers what is happening, such as, “I reversed the order, so that the last one was first, and the first was last. When I flipped through them, it looked like the man was floating through the sky” (325), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will then throw the exact idea straight to readers on the next ten pages. As well, in terms of relationships the book succeeds just as much. The characters are all weaved in this intricate pattern, somehow making the biggest impact on the other characters while having their own independent stories and ideas.
However, in terms of characters, there is one little complaint about the novel. It’s something you can get over… but it does make the beginning a bit shaky. Bluntly, Oskar doesn’t feel his age. Though weird to say, he just doesn’t seem to appear as a nine year old child. In fact, I was awed by this realization seeing that I only found it by reading the summary after, well, reading halfway through the entire story. Oops.
Anyhow, his knowledge and language seem more appropriate to a teenager in high-school, not someone still in elementary school. And while I know that this relates to his need to “grow up” after suffering an immense, traumatic loss… it just felt awkward. At times Oskar thinks childishly with quotes like, “I love that story, because it shows how ignorant people can be. And also because I love tortoises” (11). Yet other times Oskar will act like, “I kicked over my chair, threw his papers across the floor, and hollered, ‘No! Of course not, you fucking asshole!’ … That was what I wanted to do. Instead I just shrugged my shoulders” (203). Perhaps it was the time of the book or the author struggling to fit the role while getting a mature idea across, but it simply caught me off guard.
On terms of mature ideas as well, a reader must know what their getting into with this book. Though giving a brief summary, it should be mentioned that this book is only for certain audiences. While dealing with previously dark material such as grief, death, and loss the book also carries other themes. These themes would include the post’s warning of mature language, and adult themes that will only be explained by a reading of the novel.
However, I do not want to scare audiences away with these claims- it still was an incredible novel. Simply, not all readers may be willing to read such subjects.
Therefore, with all of this in mind, I’d say this was a mostly excellent book. After reading, I couldn’t help but think back to the stories and ending a few times. The characters are interesting, the story is engrossing, and the entire idea seems to be so far from what’d you would expect. Thus, I give this novel a rating of 9/10. If you’re prepared for a mature story and interesting style of writing, I’d certainly suggest this book.