Sparrow's Reviews > Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
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Sep 22, 10

bookshelves: favorites, classic-or-cannonical, influenced-me, reviewed
Recommended to Sparrow by: This guy (Eric?) who I worked with at BN
Recommended for: those who haven't read History of Love
Read in June, 2006, read count: 2

Maybe it goes without saying that we write differently in letters than we do in email or text. Something about putting pen to paper makes a handwritten letter more intimate and less imposing than electronic media. We take off the tin-foil hat. Our mistakes are not made invisible by a backspace key, but crossed out with our own hand. We reveal ourselves. And letters to people we love are that much more intimate and revealing, even sentimental. We create something, a product, that you can hold in your hand, and then send it off, like a little piece of ourselves. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is Jonathan Safran Foer’s love letter to New York City.

I’ve seen some readers complain that its sentimentality is manipulative, and even though I can imagine reading the book that way, I can’t understand it. I think this book is one of the most beautiful explorations of love, grief, and humanity that I’ve ever experienced. It’s been years since I last read it, and I wanted to read it again before reviewing, but I’m not really at an emotional place where I could take it right now. What is love without death? And sometimes both are too harsh to look in the face. I have to make a nothing place for them. But I’ve had this review percolating in my brain, and I felt like I needed to share it, even though it’s only impressions.

Traditional wedding vows summarize pretty economically that classic feeling of being in love. I will love you in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, till death do us part. It’s that feeling of “I loved you before I knew you, and I will love you after we’re dust.” Foer does something similar here. He’s saying to the City, “I loved you as a child. I love you as an old man, as an old woman. I loved you when I only had a key to your secrets, but didn’t know what door it belonged to. I love you in the health of family and in the sickness of grief.” And somehow, for right or wrong, it is more meaningful to be reminded of love when we are at our most worthless and broken. This love letter takes place just after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, and it gives me the feeling of Foer sewing up the wounds of the city.

I lived in New York a couple of years before the September 11th attack, and I hated the city. When the attacks happened, I lived in one of the religiously fanatical far-away places where a lot of people felt, secretly or openly, that New York deserved to have a symbol of its decadence cut down. I lived in Oregon. People would say that “we” brought this upon ourselves, but, despite my aversion to New York City, that always offended me. New York is not “we” to anyone in Oregon. “We” is Rainie Falls and Mount Pisgah and Voodoo Doughnuts and Dutch Bros and Rice Hill. “We” is the Caveman statue and Powell’s and the stupid Enchanted Forest. The World Trade Center is just as foreign to “us” as Afghanistan or Nicaragua, Dresden or Hiroshima. Not only do I not believe that anyone, English speaking or not, brings that kind of devastation upon themselves, I also do not believe that it is “our” right to speak to the justice of that kind of event. I love where I live, and I feel that same kind of love and care in Foer talking about where he lives. I think it is beautiful. I think that it is not possible for a place that could be so beloved, no matter how much I dislike it myself, to have deserved bombing. I would say the same about Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Dresden, and Hiroshima.

On a lighter and more bitchy note, Nicole Krauss is married to Foer, and her book The History of Love is very, very similar to Extremely Loud. I think that if you’ve read one of those, you can’t really like the other, unfortunately. They are both, to some extent, about the injustices of growing up, but Krauss takes the tone of overcoming adversity, where I think Foer takes the tone of reconciliation and healing. Maybe they both have all of those elements. I’m one thumb up, one thumb down on History of Love, but words cannot tell you how much I love Extremely Loud. Some of the similarities are in the family phrasings, some are in the plots. You can see how they are very different writers who suffer from the disadvantage of living in the same house with another great writer. It’s stressful.

Extremely Loud is American folklore. It is regional, but can’t be held responsible for it. Not that regionalism is necessarily a turn-off, but we want to read about ourselves. Cultures that are familiar but foreign can be suspicious. At the same time, this story does bring me into the culture that was devastated by 9/11. I was not the target of the 9/11 attacks, just like Oskar, the protagonist of this book, was not. But also, we both were. We both are Americans, despite our foreignness. It is one of those muddles that political boundaries make out of culture. We are foreigners and family at the same time. It’s confusing and figurative and sentimental. In fact, all of this, everything in this book, is more figurative and sentimental than many readers care for, but what do you expect from a love letter?
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William Thomas It is one of the best novel's about the exploration of great tragedy, a large- scale tragedy, on a very intimate and personal level. Manipulative? I agree with not understanding that point of view. It is hardly that. I saw it as honest and candid, the purpose of using a boy instead of a man in the narrative, to remove any sense of jaded stereotypes.


Sparrow I agree! I love it.


message 3: by TK421 (new)

TK421 That was a great review. I have yet to read the book, but when I was in college and the attacks happened we had a professor on campus that actually told all of the foreign students to stay home, let the dust settle for us Americans. And the way his face scrunched up as he said the word us still resonates in my mind. New York deserves a love letter.


Jasmine A lot of people complain that this book is exploitative of september 11 and that foer uses the tragedy as a way to make money. I actually think if you take the book for what it is this is not at all what is happening. I think it is a love letter like you say but it's also creation of a community. The book is about the coming together of a city. A little boy couldn't randomly knock on doors after any tragedy, but there was something about september 11 that really transformed new york, or perhaps just revealed the true new york. It wasn't the place, as I was told growing up, that more people get bitten every year by other people than by rats. But it was the place where everyone managed to come together to create a great beauty out of a terrible tragedy. And now when you come upon new york the legacy of september 11th isn't the monument they want to build, but I think it exists in those people who jump onto the subway tracks to save people who fell and the intense love and respect for policemen and firefighters. I think there is something about this book that really captures the beauty that is new york instead of the various attacks on its character.

all this from someone who didn't notice it was 9/11 until someone from a rural area pointed it out on facebook in an extremely unappealing way.


Jasmine Gavin wrote: "That was a great review. I have yet to read the book, but when I was in college and the attacks happened we had a professor on campus that actually told all of the foreign students to stay home, l..."

I am mildly confused why someone would say that?


Sparrow Thanks, you guys!

Jasmine wrote: "I am mildly confused why someone would say that?"

I think people said things like this because of unsympathetic reaction from other countries. I also think that it was maybe the first time since WWII that America had any reason to feel united, so maybe people didn't know how to be gracious about national spirit.

I agree about the way he deals with community, Jasmine. I think you said all of that really well, and that's partly what I mean. He goes into all these corners of the city to show us that what's there is beauty or humanity. I just have this picture of Oscar walking all over, connecting the parts of the city to each other and to real people and real stories. Plus, I think he's really funny. And I agree, I don't think it exploits any of the tragedies. Such a weird criticism to me.

There are too many adverbs in the title, so that turned me against it at first. I think it's a valid complaint, but I LOVED the title by the time I finished it. Love.


Jasmine I think the response was strange for other countries because terrorism was new to america. or at least this kind. I mean we had the "crazies" but countries like england have the IRA and spain well 95% of the population are terrorists. Other countries couldn't really understand the shock value for americans. I mean there hasn't even been a war here since 1812.


Sparrow Elizabeth wrote: "I love when people talk about letter writing, and it is extra special when they do it well, which you did, Meredith. That is so true about how revealing even the errors in a written letter can be."

And we seem to talk about them all the time around here, right?


message 9: by Sparrow (last edited Sep 22, 2010 05:17PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sparrow Jasmine wrote: "I think the response was strange for other countries because terrorism was new to america. or at least this kind. I mean we had the "crazies" but countries like england have the IRA and spain well ..."

I think that's probably true. And I do think that some people had the attitude that this was the only tragedy that has ever mattered, and that's probably equally wrong to the attitude that the people of New York deserved it. But I could see feeling like this was the only tragedy that matters if it was the only tragedy that directly affected you.


Jasmine it was a weird couple years. a lot of times now I go back and think about the guy hat got shot in the subway in england. a lot of sad things happened.


Sparrow I think maybe it's always weird in one way or another.


message 12: by DoctorM (new)

DoctorM love this review.


Jasmine thank god for guys like foer who make us feel better about the weird.

I actually like nick hornby for the same reason, and david nicholls until the end of his book.


Sparrow DoctorM wrote: "love this review."

Thank you!

Jasmine wrote: "thank god for guys like foer who make us feel better about the weird.

I actually like nick hornby for the same reason, and david nicholls until the end of his book."


Yes! I haven't read Nicholls. I kind of agree about Hornby, and there are obvious similarities between About a Boy and this book, but I don't think either one is complimented by comparison to the other. I think Hornby is better at writing spoiled, shallow people than weirdness. But he is wonderful, too.


message 15: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 22, 2010 05:51PM) (new)

I owe you a love letter, Meredith.


Sparrow Ceridwen wrote: "I owe you love letter, Meredith."

Awww.


message 17: by DoctorM (new)

DoctorM I've always been a major fan of letters, of fountain pens and blended inks and stationery.


message 18: by Kelly (last edited Sep 22, 2010 06:48PM) (new)

Kelly Unfortunately, I loooooved History of Love so I guess I wouldn't have the excellent experience with it you did, otherwise I would put this on my list after your lovely review!


Sparrow DoctorM wrote: "I've always been a major fan of letters, of fountain pens and blended inks and stationery."

Blended inks? I think I had one of those at Starbucks the other day.

Kelly wrote: "Unfortunately, I loooooved History of Love so I guess I wouldn't have the excellent experience with it you did, otherwise I would put this on my list after your lovely review!"

Thanks, Kelly! I know, it's SUCH a bummer. I completely couldn't appreciate History of Love because the crossovers are too weird. I've heard the experience is the same in reverse. They use some of the same really unique and endearing phrases, which is sweet, except that you're like, "Wait, is this the kid from the other book? Why is he doing this one weird thing and not the other weird shit he usually does?" I could tell Krauss was a lovely writer, but I couldn't appreciate her because I was too distracted. I'm thinking about writing them a letter in which I require them to edit out any crossover storytelling so that I can enjoy them both.


message 20: by Buck (new)

Buck Ceridwen wrote: "I owe you a love letter, Meredith."

And you both owe me a love letter, but I'd settle for a sorta-like letter.

We've moved beyond complimenting each other on every little review we post, right? But I really dig this one. And you know what the best part is? No sperm. Pure class all the way.


message 21: by Sparrow (last edited Sep 23, 2010 12:33AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sparrow Buck wrote: "And you both owe me a love letter, but I'd settle for a sorta-like letter."

Start checking your mailbox. Less of a letter, and more of a dissertation. School's been boring.

The other one was totally classy, too! There was only sperm in the first word! Then I started talking about . . . oh, wait, you won't know unless you read it.

I started reading a little bit of Mating, and I hate to say it, but I think I actually do get what you're saying. It's kind of weird.


message 22: by Buck (new)

Buck I started reading a little bit of Mating, and I hate to say it, but I think I actually do get what you're saying. It's kind of weird.

That is kind of weird. But in hindsight, I'm not even sure I get what I was saying.

If you end up reading this, I hope you'll review it. I totally blew off that assignment. Plus, it would finally give us another book in common aside from PtP. Remember that one? Good times.


Sparrow If you would complete your regular assignments, we would have a lot more really freaky books in common. Just sayin'. Then my shelves wouldn't have to feel so ghetto next to your shelves.

I don't know if I'm going to finish it. It's like REALLY long, and, I don't know, intellectual. And sometimes I like what it's saying and other times it's being an asshole. Maybe that's the similarity.


message 24: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! (Psst, Meredith, he's written of embarrassing stuff from sword&sorcery days but he doesn't display them on this site. Don't be fooled by the big gold medallion necklaces, there's still a ghetto thug underneath.)


Sparrow Eh? Eh! wrote: "(Psst, Meredith, he's written of embarrassing stuff from sword&sorcery days but he doesn't display them on this site. Don't be fooled by the big gold medallion necklaces, there's still a ghetto th..."

You can tell from the minute you meet him. I'm not even lying, I think that was the first thing I said to him. Check the transcript if you don't believe me, Buck. No one who really loves reading escapes that kind of thing. Only posers stick strictly to pomo and explorations of sexuality and the human condition. And the man's no poser as far as I can see.


message 26: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Elizabeth wrote: "Do you have a secret indexing system you're not telling me about? "

The brain is beautiful, mysterious organ that still evades attempts to understand it. Mine is a big mess of crossed lines and junk.


Meredith wrote: "You can tell from the minute you meet him. I'm not even lying, I think that was the first thing I said to him."

!!!!!
Like, a face to face meeting? Love it! When? Details!


Sparrow Eh? Eh! wrote: "!!!!!
Like, a face to face meeting? Love it! When? Details!"


No no no. If your wiles can't get him out here, mine certainly won't. Just when we first became friends on here. As I recall, he made some dig at the social status of my shelves and I questioned the sincerity of his. It's pretty much defined our friendship as far as I can tell.


message 28: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Aww, well, my wiles are weak-fu. I'd say your bookshelves are quite a draw!


Sparrow Eh? Eh! wrote: "Aww, well, my wiles are weak-fu. I'd say your bookshelves are quite a draw!"

Whatever! You have black-belt wiles. I'm partial to my books, too.


message 30: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! More like Sansabelt wiles.


Sparrow Your wiles are fully belted.


message 32: by Buck (new)

Buck Revisiting old threads is like revisiting your high-school yearbook (assuming you were as homely and awkward as I was in high school). I just re-read Eh’s thread, thinking, “God, I was a weird kid back then… in May.” I don’t know which is more mortifying to me now: the stuff about my Tad Williams phase or the stuff about my YouPorn phase (that’s all it was, honest).

Set the record straight, Eh: I eventually came clean about my time in the sword-and-sorcery ghetto. I think I was pretty candid about it. Almost as candid as you were about your first kiss. (Don’t worry: I’ll say no more about it, even though it’s like the cutest story ever.)

Meredith’s not lying about our first interaction on GR. I was really snotty in my friend request. I said something like, “I wouldn’t touch most of your books with a barge pole.” And she was like, “What’s a barge pole, asshole?” And we’ve been friends ever since.


Sparrow All true. And I knew you were a good one when you were still my friend after the barge pole thing. And I'm glad you've come clean about the dragon business.

(psst. we're complimenting Eh! on her wiles over here. catch up!)


message 34: by Eh?Eh! (last edited Sep 23, 2010 09:01PM) (new)

Eh?Eh! Hey! That's embarrassing stuff! Fine, we're even for the 16yo crack. I mean, the crack about the 16yo. Yeesh, I hope that story doesn't mean I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to letter material.

Hahahaaa, that's the best comeback! Feisty lady!

edit - hee! found the 16yo crack


Sparrow I'm pretty sure that's not exactly what I said, but that was the basic effect.

Why do I not know that story?! I see a letter coming my way in the near future. Or! You could tell this story at the slumber party after the pillow fight.


message 36: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Oooh, yes! It's more fitting for a post-pillow fight setting.


message 37: by Buck (new)

Buck Eh's wiles are indeed formidable. But her Sansabelt is no match for my futility belt (another old thread - not gonna link to it).

It's funny: I don't think Eh and I were even friends when we became pen pals. She just thrust her address on me out of nowhere and said, "Write to me, damn you." That's how I remember it, anyway. She was probably a little wilier about it.


Sparrow Buck wrote: "I don't think Eh and I were even friends when we became pen pals. She just thrust her address on me out of nowhere and said, 'Write to me, damn you.'"

Just as she should. You did put the call out. I think that's what Jessica did to me that finally got me in the game. It's nice to have good souls like that around.


Jasmine Elizabeth wrote: "Eh? Eh! wrote: "Oooh, yes! It's more fitting for a post-pillow fight setting."

Stories after the pillow fight! Excellent. Do we get alcohol laced hot chocolate too? That's what I remember from hi..."


why not just alcohol. that's the way I remember it.


Sparrow Yeah, I vote regular alcohol. The chocolate filled with alcohol deals make me gag.


Jasmine I like alcoholic slushies... there is something about acting like a five year old while drunk.


Sparrow It's something about the sweetness and consistency of the chocolate liqueur stuff that is completely disgusting to me.


message 43: by Eh?Eh! (last edited Sep 24, 2010 11:21PM) (new)

Eh?Eh! Buck wrote: "But her Sansabelt is no match for my futility belt (another old thread - not gonna link to it)."

Hee! Futility belt.


Meredith wrote: "Buck wrote: "I don't think Eh and I were even friends when we became pen pals. She just thrust her address on me out of nowhere and said, 'Write to me, damn you.'"
You did put the call out. I think that's what Jessica did to me that finally got me in the game."


I remember forcing addresses out of a few of you. It's been a joy to see loopy cursive where I expected all caps, font-like handwriting, and a few examples of the most perfect hands I've ever seen.


Elizabeth wrote: "Do we get alcohol laced hot chocolate too? "

That can be provided! W/ and w/o alcohol.


Sparrow You are a treasure chest of important threads that I missed! Tell me if you can't guess who was the one that researched the Game, but I think it should be obvious. Hint: he saved us from Hot Wheels. He's got lots of tricks up his sleeve.


message 45: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Yes! He's got the glibness! Oh man, I'm guessing he just played with the Game for fun and no follow through (catch & release?)? Well, the skills are still there and he used them for good with Hot Wheels!


Sparrow Yeah, I got SUPER mad at him when he first told me because he has a lot of really douchey friends, and the idea of them unleashed on the population and armed with manipulative pick-up techniques just turns my stomach. But then it actually turned out to be funny because he ended up having these really awkward stories about his douchey friends trying to be suave with The Game and totally bombing. And he's pretty respectful as far as I know, so I'm not too worried. I don't mean this in a bad way, but it's the kind of thing that sort of comes naturally to him anyway, but not so creepy. I hope.


message 47: by Eh?Eh! (last edited Sep 25, 2010 12:18AM) (new)

Eh?Eh! He was teaching the Game to his d-bag friends? Nice! Knowing the Game wouldn't automatically make someone all suave with it, that would take a little talent and some practice. I imagine it to be like make-up or Nair, or something that requires proper application to work properly.

Naw, he's cool, and with you to monitor I doubt he'll ever abuse the Game, heh.


Sparrow No, his douchiest friend actually BOUGHT THE BOOK, which is gross because that guy has been awful since he was 12 years old, and that's how they all started the business. Then, he and a way less douchey friend decided they were going to pull a prank on another dude and write some kind of news story for the PSU paper, where they followed the dude around and recorded his attempts to play The Game. It worked out semi-hilariously, but not successfully, for the dude. I think people who are jackasses have to work pretty hard to really cover it up. And maybe also have to not be drunk off their asses when they're trying to cover it up.


Keegan Congratulations, you have successfully created my favorite review of any book. :) Have you seen the movie? I absolutely loved it.


Sparrow Thank you! I kind of doubt that I will see the movie, actually. :( It looked like they were going cute-loveable with the kid, and I had pictured him more awkward, like the kid in the movie version of About a Boy. It just makes me nervous, and I figure I would get all riled up about it.


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