§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

I never had any interest in this author and didn’t read Everything is Illuminated. Until I read Nicole Krauss' (his wife’s) novel The History of Love and the reviews all complained how much the two had in common, I didn't even think of reading Foer. Possibly because of the gimmicky titles but also because I’d heard he used child narrators and, in my opinion, it’s the rare author who manages to make a novel with a child narrator anything but sentimental. As usual when I come up with such arbitrary pronouncements, I was wrong about that one.

I did like this one and I think Foer’s creation of Oscar Schell as narrator is one of the best, most sustained performances of writing as a child I’ve ever read. You probably already know the story. Oscar is 7 when his father, a family jewelry store owner at a meeting at the World Trade Center, was killed in 9/11. He’s 9 when he’s telling his story. He’s become obsessed with a key hidden in a blue vase among his father’s possessions. He’s convinced that the key holds some clue to why his father died and embarks on what seems a hopeless quest—talking to everyone in New York with the surname Black (which name he’s rather tangentially associated with the key).

Oscar is precocious and emotionally fragile. He’s worn heavy boots and given himself bruises since his father died. He depends on his mother and grandmother—who lives across the street—but doesn’t confide in either, nor in the psychiatrist his mother takes him too. The narrative slowly builds to the understanding of what really bothers Oscar.

At the same time, the novel also tells the story of Thomas Schell, Oscar’s grandfather, who left his grandmother in NY when she told him she was pregnant with their only child. Thomas' unsent letters to his son form part of the story's narration—there's some in his grandmother's voice as well—and their struggle to deal (or avoid dealing) with the tragedy in their lives (the firebombing of Dresden at the end of WWII where Thomas lost his lover and both their families) parallels Oscar’s tragedy.

Oscar’s peculiarities make this book. They provide humor, suspense and raw human feeling in a way you’d never get from an adult. Indeed the tragedy of the grandparents who survived the firebombing when their loved one's didn't and then were estranged for 40 years pales in the face of Oscar’s own tragedy. It works in the novel the way a secondary theme works in a symphony.

As to comparison’s between this book and Nicole Krauss’ there are lots of them: the child narrator (though hers is a teen), the dead father, childish lists, an odyssey around NY to find someone, an elderly man who never meets his son, survivors who at the end of their lives realize they’ve refused to live. But they are not the same book by any stretch of the imagination and each is worth reading.

Oh, I found the graphic shenanigans kind of silly. Posted by Picasa


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