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Oscars Book Review: "Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close" Is A Heartbreakingly Beautiful Story

Charlotte Spangler |
February 25, 2012 | 8:55 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Jonathan Safran Foer's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (Harcourt)
Jonathan Safran Foer's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (Harcourt)
Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is one of most interestingly written books I’ve read in a long time. A mash-up of photos, letters, pages of journal, and traditional narrative, it tells the story through the eyes of nine-year old Oskar Schell as he struggles to recover from the death of his father in the September 11 attacks.

The book follows Oskar as he discovers a key in an envelope in his father’s closet a year after he died, then journeys through the five boroughs to find its lock.

Oskar is unlike any child I’ve met (or heard a story from before). He is incredibly curious, smart and creative. He constantly invents things, from the mundane, like limos long enough that you only had to crawl through in order to get to your destination to the more tragic, like “skyscrapers made with moving parts, so they could rearrange themselves when they had to.”

Oskar’s narrative is broken up by long letters from his grandparents written to their grandson. Both haunted by the bombings of Dresden, Germany, they, like Oskar, tell stories of pain and loss, and also of appreciating the simple things in life. His beloved grandmother’s writing is fragmented, devoid of punctuation marks and full of philosophical questions. She writes, “I spent my life learning to feel less. Every day I felt less. Is that growing old?”

His grandfather’s letters, on the other hand, include long ramblings that at times fill pages with words overlapping other words until it is illegible. These pages are contrasted with almost-blank pages from his “daybooks,” where he writes to communicate (“I do not speak,” he admits frequently, “I’m sorry”).

The distinct writing styles of the three narrators are interspersed with photos taken by Oskar of doorknobs, birds and hands, a copy a sheet of paper where people tested pens, pages of only numbers, letters with red pen circling the errors, blank pages, and, at the end, a series of photos of a person falling from a window in reverse. Together, these weave an interesting narrative unlike anything I’ve read before.

The creative story telling adds to the story, in my opinion. Because it changes to frequently, I was never bored. The beautiful photos and interesting phrasings kept me intrigued. While I can see some people becoming irritated with the informal style and sometimes schizophrenic-like writing, I loved it. It read less like a book and more like a small boy’s diary filled with the things he collects.

At times funny and light, at others thoughtful and sad, Foer accurately communicates the confusing musings of a hurt boy. This type of narration is quite uncommon, which is why it is so successful. It is not often we are let into the mind of a nine-year old, especially not one as fascinating as Oskar.

I would recommend this book as an easy and emotional journey. I myself was led to tears as Oskar learns more about life and admits the things he knew. Watching this boy try to make sense of such a great loss is heart-breaking but beautiful.

Reach reporter Charlotte Spangler here.



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