Brad's Reviews > Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
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's review
Sep 06, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: unfinished, paused
Read in September, 2010

I read the first chapter and stopped. I am pissed off. I have rarely felt so manipulated as a reader in my life, and I think the manipulation is more about the way it is written than what it is written about, although that is, in itself, fairly manipulative. If this is how Foer usually writes, I want no part of him or his work. Still, if this was a short story and I reached the point where the Dad is about to talk to his son before the towers collapse, I would be excited by the cleverness of the moment, would look forward to the conversation, and be pleased in anticipation of the genuine anguish that must be coming. But it's not a short story. It's the first chapter in what is a pretty long book, and I imagine all manner of excruciating crapness is to come. Couple that with a first person narrative in the voice of a "precocious" kid -- so precocious, in fact, that he sounds like a thirty-something man trapped in a kid's body rather than a genuinely precocious kid (I often suspect, when these impossibly precocious characters appear, that the author wants to write as a child but realizes he isn't good enough, so he makes them precocious so he can just write as themselves at their least disciplined and pretend it is a child) -- and I want to tear my eyeballs out after only twenty some-odd pages. Even worse, I didn't know this was about the WTC attack until I got this to the cash register. I just saw it on sale, knew it had good buzz, liked the cover and thought, "What the hell?!" I need to reexamine my impulse buying, apparently, because I would not have bought this book if I'd known what it was about before I did. I think, too, that if I keep reading this book it is going to be lucky to get one star, so it's probably best to leave it where it is for now: on my to-read shelf, buried under that copy of Shogun that's been there for a decade.
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01/29 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-42 of 42) (42 new)

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David Katzman i agree--i was much underwhelmed by it, especially compared to those out there who seem to see him as the second coming. You're lucky you only read so far though, because i thought the child was much more interesting than the flashbacks to the grandparents.

message 2: by Clif (new) - rated it 1 star

Clif Hostetler I gave it one star. Glad to see that I'm not alone.

Thomas Baughman I agree with you completely, Brad.

Brad Thanks, guys. That makes me feel a little less guilty. I know many people love it, and the fact that I stopped very short makes me wonder if I should have kept reading, but y'all have me thinking I made the right decision.

message 5: by Tracey (new)

Tracey Sounds like you need to list this on the “swap” section.

Brad I dunno, Tracey. I kinda feel like I haven't given it a fair shake, so for now I need to kid myself that I will get back to it, but perhaps I should heed your advice.

Helen (Helena/Nell) I know just what you mean about the impulse to indulge impulse buying, followed by the experience that impulse buying is actually not such a great idea.

Bet the marketing team would be pleased though. They got a result. You felt the buzz, liked the cover, parted with CASH. Bingo!

Brad Yeah, it stings to be suckered like that.

Leah I violently abhor being emotionally manipulated, or at least having it happen and not being allowed to have a say on the matter, which is the way I feel he approaches this story.

I saw the kid voice as a cop-out too, and not a believable one at that. I listened to Everything is Illuminated on audio and I liked that one well enough, but I couldn't get through this one - it was on my 'currently-reading' for ages before I retired it.

message 10: by Brad (new) - rated it 2 stars

Brad Were you listening to this one as well, or reading it? I wonder if that would have helped at all.

Glad I'm not the only one who feels that way about being manipulated, Leah. It makes my attack on this book so early on feel okay.

message 11: by Leah (new) - rated it 2 stars

Leah You know, I honestly can't remember - how sad is that?!

message 12: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Eiseman-Renyard Wow - this was on my 'to read' list, but warily so: Everything is Illuminated was 50/50 amazing and rubbish: I loved the modern day bits and was reading them out to everyone who hung aorund long enough - but hated/was bored to tears by the magical realism back-story schlock.

Didn't know which side of the divide this one was going to fall - think I do now.

David Katzman How interesting that he did the same back-story/modern day premise in EII. Sounds like he's got a technique....

message 14: by Brad (new) - rated it 2 stars

Brad I have been wondering if I would like Everything is Illuminated better. But then do I really want to take a shot at that book when there is so much out there to read? I dunno. I may stop reading Foer right here.

message 15: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Eiseman-Renyard I'm willing to guess that EEI is way better - it's the debut that got him awards and attention - ELAIC is the overhyped second album.

Though I'd recommend you just read the modern day bits - skip all the Trachimbrod backstory. Better novel. Quicker, too.

David Katzman Zora, someday--perhaps when you're a teenager--you'll realize that other people are allowed to have opinions that disagree with yours. It will make it a lot easier for you to get along in life. The world doesn't revolve around you.

message 17: by Brad (new) - rated it 2 stars

Brad Thanks for the support, DD.

I kinda like being offensive. Thanks to you too, Zora.

message 18: by Leah (new) - rated it 2 stars

Leah I didn't mind the Trachimbrod aspect - I wasn't sure how they would have filmed it for the movie aspect though, so maybe that's why they didn't bother. I remember my first viewing of the film as being disappointed that this whole aspect of the story was missing, but now I like both book and movie versions just about the same.

David Katzman I believe it. I was commenting metaphorically on your rude comment, which you now edited, as being very childish.

message 20: by Brad (new) - rated it 2 stars

Brad They're making a movie with Tom Hanks as the Dad (I presume. I didn't get far enough to know otherwise. Maybe a Grandpa?). I wonder how "Blah!" that will be?

message 21: by Ruzz (new) - added it

Ruzz stop reading him. or at least his fiction. eating animals was a good book. his manipulations there matter. everything illuminated is better, but still very him.

message 22: by Brad (new) - rated it 2 stars

Brad I can't see me reading him again. Too much else to read.

message 23: by Velvetink (last edited Oct 18, 2011 10:26PM) (new) - added it

Velvetink Brad wrote: "I can't see me reading him again. Too much else to read."

I'm glad I read EII first, liked both the movie and the book but both were presented differently.. The backstory was fine - it was the layout of EII I didn't particularly like but I had a personal interest in the content so I was able to overlook the style. As you said there are too many more books to read so I won't be reading Foer again anytime soon.

Kristine I do not like Oskar character. He doesn't ring true to me, so I keep thinking that perhaps he has aspbergers or was born with that NYC brand of cool that makes the rest of the world trivial. Anyway, I am 1/3 of the way through, and might finish it. I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed Shogun when I read it a billion years ago. You might want to give it a try.

message 25: by Brad (new) - rated it 2 stars

Brad I really do want to give it a try, but the thing sits there on my shelf daunting me. I look at it and it seems like it would require the sort of commitment that would preclude other reading, and I fear being locked into one book for that long.

message 26: by Clif (new) - rated it 1 star

Clif Hostetler The movie of "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" staring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock will be in theaters on January 20. I'm curious to see how they play the little boy. Surely he won't be as obnoxious as he is in the book.

message 27: by Brad (new) - rated it 2 stars

Brad I saw At the Movies on PBS a week or two ago, and the critics both said the boy was utterly insufferable in the movie -- both giving the picture a thumbs down. Yikes.

Lindsay I started reading it last night and am about 1/2 way through. I agree the writing style is awful and the characters are not believable. I thought for a while Oskar was 13ish.

message 29: by Brad (new) - rated it 2 stars

Brad You are bravery than I, Lindsay. I haven't gone back to this after my initial attempt. Do you think you'll finish?

Lindsay The nerd in me says yes. This is the first time ever I am propelling myself through a novel for the sake of getting it over with.

Lindsay I finished it. The last chapter was the only good one. I felt that there was no climax and the book just wandered for pages.

message 32: by Brad (new) - rated it 2 stars

Brad That sucks, Lindsay. I'm going to read your review.

Lindsay I haven't posted one not sure of I will since I have never done a review before

message 34: by Brad (new) - rated it 2 stars

Brad This is the perfect book to start with then, Lindsay. Just think of all you have to work with.

Helen Stevens The book isn't *about* the WTC attacks. It's about the son, trying to solve a mystery left behind by his father...the fact that the dad died in 9/11 is setting the scene...the book isn't all about that.

message 36: by Miloš & Brontë (new)

Miloš & Brontë That's good to know, Helen. It is central to the boys search, though, isn't it? And to some of those he finds?

message 37: by Jen (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jen I did enjoy the book, but see validity in many of your points.

The suggestion by many that the boy has Asperger's is probably because it's a vogue diagnosis right now. An asperger's child would not approach so many strangers and unfamiliar places. Though his struggle with friends at school kind of alludes to that diagnosis, there are many other explanations for few friends, difficulty managing friendships, etc. The part about the boy giving himself bruises seemed unexplained and even trivialized. While he does see a therapist, the lack of concern over his self-harm at age 9 seemed unrealistic. (Is the author a parent?) My 9 yr old TRIES to hide such things but if he ever bathes or gets dressed or runs out of clean shirts ... a parent would know.)

However, the child is a pretty accurate portrayal of a "precocious" child. The eternal frustration of such a child is that adults do judge him/her as you and many other have. These children definitely can seem manipulative, creepy mature in verbal expressions, and freakishly stubborn. The mother's apparent lack of concern (loosely explained at the end) is somewhat accurate of an exhausted parent. These precocious children, often with ridiculously high IQs, are utterly exhausting! They are sincere in their intentions but their means are hard to interpret, hard to endure. Their constant flow of ideas, questions and requests monopolize your time. His obsession with this random key really fits this type of child. (Though maintaining this obsession and behavior for 6 months seems uncharacteristic, in my personal experience.)

The way these children process difficult events and emotions (that challenge even adults) is mature intellectually but their age limits their coping skills. Their simple lack of life experience makes their behavior choices illogical (which in turn frustrates the tar out of them for they want to be logical in all things!). And yes, I have such a child. I could relate to alot of the boy's behaviors - and the patience some of the adults had with him astounded me; as I rarely have that much!

YET, using a precocious child as a literary devise IS overused to a ridiculous level in film and literature. There really aren't that many of them. There are plenty of more realistic/common/endearing child characters that could tell a story, share their POV, without the added curiosities of a precocious personality. There are many intelligent, eloquent child characters that wouldn't have to be quirky or overly "mature".

My biggest annoyance was throwing in sexual encounters by his grandparents in the middle of a story about a boy on a quest to find closure after a loss. Grandma is going to tell grandson about sex or lack thereof? That "framework" for telling their stories felt wrong. While I "get" that we needed the ending with the letters and grandpa, it seemed to throw the whole scope of the book. Make up your mind. A tortured story of love misplaced and the complexity of ADULT relationships OR a story of a troubled child, wracked by guilt and grief, and the CHILD-ADULT relationships that get him through it.

I think it's my BA in English that made me enjoy the book and give it a good rating. I liked studying his conventions or lack there of. I kept imagining an explanation to the publisher about why we HAVE to have pages of garbled illegible text. Why we HAVE to have pictures and drawings. Whether its classified as good or bad literature was unimportant for me - I was studying a subject without judgement, like a painter painting a nude - detached from the emotion, focusing on a tiny piece of the whole to analyze.

message 38: by Claudette (new) - added it

Claudette Wish I had stopped at the first chapter. As it is, I wasted at least 3 days trying to get through to any good part of this book. As it was about the WTC bombing, I was really hopeful about this book.. but nope.. I just don't get it.

message 39: by Reid (new)

Reid Reid M. Lol, I finally gave away my unread copy of Shogun! I read all of E.I.I.and "gave up" on Foer Foerever. I think, in a word, it was the contrivance that turned me off.

message 40: by Gracia (new) - added it

Gracia i'm 65,i quit after about 60 pages.i thought that kid was so false,the random one word pages so annoying.choose your books wisely and don't finish them if you don't like them.i love your review.i should have read it before I put this on my kindle.i used to finish every book I started but not this year.

message 41: by Amber (new) - added it

Amber Tucker I'm reading this too, I'm about a third of the way through it right now, and I definitely agree with some of the points in this review. But (again, so far) I also agree with Jen's comment above. We should talk about it once I'm done (since I don't imagine you'll care if I spoil anything for you).

Kelsey I kind of feel like .. isn't all writing a form of emotional manipulation? I agree that there are always problems that arise in assuming the voice of someone else, but that's what fiction is. Perhaps the version of the child is unrealistic to you - and I'll admit there were times I questioned it, too - but does that mean children like Oskar simply don't exist? I'm wondering why it's the subject matter that seems to make you feel the most manipulated, as though by making the context post-9/11 is not allowed and that he somehow tricked you into reading it. I'm not going to argue for the quality of the book, but I found myself more impressed by the questions about reality the book brings up than the quality of the writing itself. I guess more than anything I'd advise reading more than a chapter to determine what the purpose of the story is (I don't think it's 9/11 itself, in other words). But, at the end of the day, I think there are maybe books that accomplish similar things in better ways. This is just one of them.

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