I’m probably the last person to read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which was enormously popular six years ago. I suspect I avoided it for awhile because of the subject matter, which is, of course, 9/11.
Oskar Schell is an extremely precocious nine-year-old boy who is grieving for his father, a casualty at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Hidden away in a vase in his father’s closet, Oskar discovers a key with a label that says “Black.” Since his father was always leaving him puzzles, he believes that if he can find the person named Black who has the lock that goes with the key, he will get a message from his father. He especially needs this message because that day, his father called repeatedly from the World Trade Center but Oskar could not make himself pick up the phone. In search of this message, Oskar begins visiting everyone in New York whose last name is Black.
The story of his grandparents’ past is told in parallel in a series of notes and letters. His grandparents both lost their families in the bombing of Dresden (perhaps too neat a parallel). Later, they met in New York, but his grandfather, severely traumatized and unable to speak, deserted his grandmother when she became pregnant.
Although it has been criticized for triteness, I found Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close a touching and funny novel about loss and about the relationship between fathers and sons (but also implicitly about mothers and sons). It is told in the nontraditional narrative style that is becoming almost traditional–in first-person narration by Oskar, in letters and pictures, and even in pages of illegible typing.
Oskar is a frighteningly intelligent, creative, unusual, and quirky child, and the depiction of his character is my major criticism. To me, he seemed very similiar in tone and style, and in repetitions and oddness, to the autistic older boy in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Other reviewers have mentioned Holden Caulfield. In fact, although you will like Oskar, you will also find him annoying at times and, I feel, unbelievably precocious for his age. He does not make a believable nine-year-old, no matter how intelligent.