Lawyer's Reviews > Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
3025547
's review
Mar 14, 2013

it was amazing
bookshelves: 9-11-2001, fathers-and-sons, loss, love, death, childhood, childhood-vicarious-trauma, psychology, grief, world-trade-twin-towers, childhood-depression, mothers-and-sons, grandmothers-and-grandsons, grandfathers-and-grandsons, marriage, sisters, isolation, 2012
Recommended to Lawyer by: A suggestion for group read by goodreads group Literary Exploration
Recommended for: Anyone
Read from January 19 to 29, 2012 — I own a copy , read count: 1

Extremely Loud and Incredbily Close: Jonathan Foer's novel of love, loss, and memory

There are events that leave an indelible stamp on us for a great portion of our lives. This happens from generation to generation.

Ask those living at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor where they were and what they were doing, they will be able to tell you the answer. Similarly, ask me where I was when I heard John F. Kennedy was shot, I can tell you.

Ask what I was doing when the attacks of 9/11 occurred, I can tell you. I had arrived at work at the District Attorney's Office. My chief side kick with whom I was working prep for a trial, ran into the grand jury room and said turn on the television. I did. What I saw was something I could not accept.

 photo towers_zpse1dd4a81.jpg

Jonathan Foer goes far past the point of remembrance. Foer drops you into the shoes of 8 year old Oskar Schell. For him, 9/11 is not simply an event which he will remember for its historical significance. It is an event he lives daily because he lost his father that day. And the event is brought home to him, for he has a cell phone with his father's messages sent from the twin towers that day. This is a secret he keeps from his mother, for he wants to protect her from the pain of those messages. It is an incredible burden for a child to bear.

From Oscar's Notebook photo fallingman_zpsf341a451.jpg

Oskar is left with a gamut of guilt and fears, resulting in a state of vicarious traumatic response to his father's death. His grief is all the more palpable because he is extremely gifted and incredibly cursed with an intelligence far more gifted than children his age.

Oskar shared a bond with his father, who fostered that intelligence, by devoting great attention on his son, gently lulling him to sleep at nights by reading him the New York Times and circling the errors they found in red ink. His father challenged Oskar's intelligence by setting up questions for Oskar to solve, leaving clues amounting to a trail of breadcrumbs leading him to a solution of the problems he designed for him.

Or did he? Did his father actually do this? Or is this something which Oskar has perceived in his mind alone?

The action of this novel occurs a year after the fall of the Towers. Oskar is still dealing with the traumatization of his father's loss. In an effort to keep the memory of his father close, Oskar frequently hides in his father's closet where the scent of his father's shaving still lingers in his mind, if only in his mind.

A bundle of memories and his fears cripple Oskar in his dealings with others, especially his schoolmates, whom are not affected by the fall of the Towers as Oskar is. Nor does Oskar perceive his mother to be as deeply affected by the loss of his father. She has a new friend, Ron, who becomes a frequent visitor to the apartment. Oskar hears their laughter in the living room, as he hides in his father's closet. At one point, typical of a child, he tells his mother he wishes it had been her who died that day. It is something a child would say, intentionally hurting the remaining parent, then immediately struck with the hurt he inflicted on his mother whom he loved without question.

There are strong clues that while Oskar is undoubtedly a prodigy of intelligence far beyond his years, that Oskar just might suffer from more than childhood fears. Is it that Oskar is afflicted by Asperger's Syndrome? A look into the Diagnostic Services Manual--I believe we're in the fifth edition of that psychological cookbook, now, reveals that this is a distinct possibility.

Oskar is enveloped in a net of pattern and design, a characteristic shared by children with this diagnosis. He is awkward in his social interactions. Nor does he seem to grasp the results of his actions in social settings. Play on words which Oskar finds hilarious are lost and misunderstood by those around him. Oskar's behavior in filling daybooks with events that have happened to him, including other tragic events occurring before and after 9/11 take on a ritualistic quality, echoing some of the characteristics shared by those diagnosed with Asperger's, which is considered a sub diagnosis of autism. It is a matter of degree, not an exclusion from that diagnosis.

That Oskar is unaware of the consequences of his behavior on his teacher and his fellow students is clear. In graphic detail, he explains the results of the bombing of Hiroshima, sharing a video interview with a survivor of the first use of an atomic bomb against a civilian population.

That Osckar's last name is Schell is a clever device used to great benefit by Foer. For Oskar is a veritable Chambered Nautilus consisting of impenetrable chambers of secrets revealed only by gently bisecting the shell of a nautilus.

Oskar's mother carries her son to be counseled by Doctor Fein, who is anything but fine in his ability to reach Oskar and release him from all the fears held within him, brought about from his father's death.

It is only through Oskar's discovery of one last mystery he believes was left him by his father to solve, that Oskar begins to live outside himself and become engaged with people outside his immediate family that just might allow him to move forward from the prison of the loss of his father.

Quite by accident, Oskar spies a blue vase on the top shelf of his father's closet. Stacking his works of Shakespeare in his father's closet, Oskar stretches to reach the vase, only to tip it off the shelf, shattering it on the floor of the closet. It contains a key, with an envelope. Written on the envelope is the word "Black" written in red ink.

Oskar determines that the answer to his father's last mystery is the key and someone named Black. Although the number of locks in New York City is mind shattering, Oskar, a child of the internet, decides to track down all the Blacks in New York City in an effort to find the secret of what the key opens.

It is this journey, if anything, that will allow Oskar to move beyond the death of his father and live his own life.

Foer, in a display of brilliance, introduces us to Oskar's grandmother and the grandfather, Oskar never knew. Thomas Schell, for whom Oskar's father was named, also is trapped within the memories of another terrible incident in Human history, the firebombing of Dresden. The elder Thomas, although once capable of speech, can no longer speak a word, but communicates by writing in blank day books. He disappeared before the birth of Oskar's father.

Dresden, Germany, February, 1945 photo Dresden_zps7421cadc.jpg

We learn of the elder Thomas's history through his letters to his unborn child and through his life with Oskar's grandmother, who lives in an apartment building across the street from Oskar. Oskar and his grandmother communicate by walkie talkies at all times of the day and night.

It is through the writings of the elder Thomas Schell that we experience first hand the horror of living through one of the great acts of inhumanity against man--the fire bombing of Dresden during World War II by the Royal Airforce and the United States 8th Airforce from February 13-15th, 1945. Those events leave Thomas Schell a man forever changed.

The beauty of Foer's novel is the answer he provides in the resolution of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. We recover from the tragedies of our lives through the bonds we share with others. This is the ultimate beauty of life.

While some critics, and some readers, find Foer's novel, manipulative and cloyingly sweet, I find it an affirmation of life. To paraphrase Faulkner's Nobel Acceptance Speech, it is through reaching out to others that not only are we able to endure, it is the way we prevail.

This is a solid 6 Stars literary masterpiece. If it makes you cry, take joy for the fact Foer reminds us we are human, not only capable of acts of inhumanity, but also capable of acts of great love and forgiveness.
101 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

01/19
35.0% "The new version 1.4 software update is quite large. Last night I took both my mother's and my color nooks into the brick and mortar store. Read in store for free. Not bad. Not bad at all--reading for free, that is. The book is extraordinary. This is a don't miss for anyone's shelves."
01/20
45.0% "Reading this book is a raison de vivre. Oskar Schell would appreciate that."
01/21
50.0% "Extremely good and incredibly well written. Foer changes point of view with the skill of the greatest of the Prestige artists."
01/27
79.0% "This just keeps getting better and better."
02/16 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-35 of 35) (35 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Stephanie I really liked this one.....and Foer in general.


message 2: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten WOW! Literary Masterpiece. I will have to read this if the Alabama Wordsmith thinks it is that good. Great review Sir Michael.


Megan Mike wrote: "If it makes you cry, take joy for the face Foer reminds us we are human, not only capable of acts of inhumanity but also capable of acts of great love and forgiveness."

Excellent review. I loved this book it made me cry and it is definitely one that I will return to in a few years and read again. Definitely a masterpiece.


message 4: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Another great review Mike! This is a strong sell, I'll be needing to read it soon. I like the Faulkner reference at the end as well. I'll have to read this before seeing the film, I hear they altered the ending quite a bit to give it a 'feel good' family ending.


Lawyer s.penkevich wrote: "Another great review Mike! This is a strong sell, I'll be needing to read it soon. I like the Faulkner reference at the end as well. I'll have to read this before seeing the film, I hear they alter..."

S, I understand that Everything is Illuminatedis an ever stronger book. A number of critics shelled this novel as being cursed by the sophomore jinx. Of course, I'm still weighting for those foaming reviewers' literary debuts. *koff* I do highly recommend. Reviews on the film seem rather lackluster. I'll wait for the DVD release. I'd prefer to bask in Foer's creation as he intended it.


Lawyer Megan wrote: "Mike wrote: "If it makes you cry, take joy for the face Foer reminds us we are human, not only capable of acts of inhumanity but also capable of acts of great love and forgiveness."

Excellent revi..."


Megan, Thanks for your kind words. I hope I did the novel the justice I believe it is entitled.


Lawyer Jeffrey wrote: "WOW! Literary Masterpiece. I will have to read this if the Alabama Wordsmith thinks it is that good. Great review Sir Michael."

Sir Geoffrey, defender of the written word, thanks for reading the review. I intend to track you through the lesser know shops and body tackle you the next time I see you reaching for a first prt. of Gardner's Grendel.

During the interim, I trust you find time to continue your find reviews during the daily Dodge City tourist shoot outs. Eagerly awaiting a southern swoop with the lovely Janet in tow. Drinks on the Hemingway Lounge, served promptly at 5. Of course, it's always cocktail hour some where in this wonderful world.


Lawyer Stephanie wrote: "I really liked this one.....and Foer in general."

Many thanks, Stephanie. Your time is appreciated. You'll be pleased to know that the latest Green you reviewed is the February read for group Edgy YA. Yes, I belong to that one, too. Must keep up with the young to speak their language.


message 9: by Sonali (new) - added it

Sonali V Your analysis of all the books are so wonderful that I want to read all of them. I saw the trailer of this movie and was very very interested; your analysis makes me want to read it as soon as I can get hold of it.


Shovelmonkey1 I've had this on my shelf forever but your review has prompted me to move it to a more prominent place and read it soon.


message 11: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana Wow, sounds like I need to read this book!


message 12: by Shaun (new)

Shaun Ryan Read this a couple of years ago. Great book.


Roger yes - it's a good book, but your review is a little over the top, IMHO. Hardly a masterpiece, in fact often clumsy and overly lengthy, but certainly moving and unique. Certainly thought provoking and touching. Well worth a read.


Lawyer Roger wrote: "yes - it's a good book, but your review is a little over the top, IMHO. Hardly a masterpiece, in fact often clumsy and overly lengthy, but certainly moving and unique. Certainly thought provoking..."

Thanks for your comment regarding my review. A little over the top? For some readers, perhaps. But every book has the power to produce different reactions in different readers, especially in the context of what is going on during a reader's personal life. I certainly agree with you that it is a touching book well worth a read. I hope we continue to share opinions on other reads.


Roger .. yes, I can't disagree with that, Mike - all reading is a very personal experience and, I know that I don't understand much so I may have been overly harsh - someone I love dearly also rates this book as 5 stars but she has much more insight than do I so it's probably my failing, not the book's.


message 16: by Jane (last edited Mar 14, 2013 08:33AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane Great review, Michael. I totally loved this book and the writers style. I recommended it to my book club and we meet on it today. I think most didn't like it and/or didn't read it, perhaps due to the 9/11 theme or the movie. Oddly, I didn't like/understand his first book, Everything is Illuminated, at all. By the way, have you read 11/23/63 by Stephen King?


Lawyer Jane,

Thanks so much for your comment. I was fascinated by the novel. Its detractors, and there are many, find it "saccharinely sweet." Those who hate the book also find Oscar wiser beyond his years. Yet, having worked with children over many years, I have found that adults, even younger adults often discount (or forget) the intelligence of children. Oscar's mental disorder actually seems to heighten his intelligence.

Foer makes a strong political statement with this novel, too. That is that acts of horrifying devastation are capable of being committed by those considered to be on the side of the angels. Holding up Hiroshima and the fire bombing of Dresden along side 9/11 is a harsh fact that makes us squirm.

I do hope that you have a good session today. I think you made an excellent selection for your group.

Mike


message 18: by Jane (last edited Mar 14, 2013 01:28PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane Hi Mike;
We had a good discussion today. A few didn't like the book at all, due to some of the contrivances in the writer's style. Some took it a bit too literally and spent time trying to "figure out" less important details of the story. Most enjoyed being taken out of their own comfort zones (as was Oskar) and voiced appreciation for the various themes carefully interwoven throughout the novel, including the anti-war statements you mention above.

Have you read "A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night?" It is one of my all time favorites. I've found that many people identified as having "intellectual disabilities" often have unusual abilities and insights - looking at life through a different, and sometimes childlike, lens.


Lawyer Jane wrote: "Hi Mike;
We had a good discussion today. A few didn't like the book at all, due to some of the contrivances in the writer's style. Some took it a bit too literally and spent time trying to "figur..."


I have stared and stared at that book by
Mark Haddon. It is one I definitely need to read. There's just so much I want to get to.

It's great you had a good discussion today. Of course you'll never find a single book that every member will enjoy. Personally, I think every group has its own "contrarian." *chuckle* Some of the hatchet job reviews on goodreads are just the tip of the iceberg. :-)


message 20: by Sarah (last edited Mar 14, 2013 08:31PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sarah Loved this book when I read it now 7 years ago, and should probably revisit it soon. I think it's interesting you found the grandparents' story most powerful; I think I was very caught up in Oskar's world, so much so that I was disappointed at the 'realistic' end to his scavenger hunt. But I was still leaving childhood at that time, which I suppose informs such responses. Thoughtful review, definitely captures the marvelousness of the book, and reminded me how much I love it.


Lawyer Sarah wrote: "Loved this book when I read it now 7 years ago, and should probably revisit it soon. I think it's interesting you found the grandparents' story most powerful; I think I was very caught up in Oskar..."

Sarah, Thank you so much for your comment. I focused on both Oskar and his grandparents, I think. That comes from being raised in my grandparents home and now being a grandparent. :-) Samuel Johnson said, "A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it." That's true, I think. It is in that concept that lies the power of literature to live through the generations, the meaning of it not necessarily remaining the same but being a continually growing and changing thing.


message 22: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes Beautiful work, Michael. Nothing to improve on here.


Lawyer Will wrote: "Beautiful work, Michael. Nothing to improve on here."

Many thanks, Will. This is one that was called to my attention by some recent readers. I read through it, did a little editing and re-posted. My nightly rehearsals for Spamalot have really cut into my reading and reviewing. I'm managing to work my way through Bleak House, and juggling moderating http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/6..., I have a relatively free day, so I'm headed to The Alabama Booksmith in Homewood, Al., to see Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution. To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, killing four children, McWhorter has published a revised edition containing additional materials discovered by an intern at the Birmingham news and an interview with Civil Rights Advocate, Fred Shuttlesworth. Looking forward to a great afternoon.

Hope all is well with you. Please accept my apology for not having kept up with yours or anyone else's reviews of late. Until I'm done with Spamalot on March 25th, I'm pretty much under the radar.


message 24: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes Break a leg


Sarah Mike wrote: "Samuel Johnson said, "A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it." That's true, I think. It is in that concept that lies the power of literature to live through the generations, the meaning of it not necessarily remaining the same but being a continually growing and changing thing. "

What a wonderful thought. It reminds me of my most precious book, a copy of Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. My great-grandfather received it as a gift for his tenth birthday and it has an inscription from his aunt dated 1914. Whenever I went to his house, I loved reading it so much that he inscribed it over to me on my tenth birthday in 1998. There's a lot of power in history and generational continuity.


message 26: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Wonderful review! I'm only sorry I watched the movie first! Love Tom Hanks, but it was not one of his best. Happy Spring!


Lawyer Cheryl wrote: "Your review captured the story in its entire. I enjoyed reading every line. Thank you."

Cheryl, thank you for having taken the time to read and comment on this review. I'm pleased that I happened to catch you had read it in the updates.

I'm notorious in frequently failing to return to check the status of a review. And I am mortified when I find that there are those who have read, commented, and for all appearances I have simply ignored their kindness.

I do not attempt to justify my behavior, but offer what may be accepted as a truthful assertion that I am not an uncaring, unsociable ogre. So my sincere thanks for your comment.

I must admit, I enjoyed writing every line. Many others do not find the degree of enjoyment in the novel that I did. I have often found many readers who find youthful narrators to be unworthy of belief and the product of an author who does not "know" children.

Examples of those books are Room by Emma Donoghue and Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld.

It is my belief that "grownups" have a tendency to underestimate the astute observation of children. Having been a student of psychology and spent a good deal of my time dealing with developmental psychology, I found most adults give children short shrift.

In fact, the years between birth and six are the most bountiful in the amount of material children learn and learn effectively. Picture children being raised in bi-lingual homes who are capable of communicating in equal ease whether in French or English.

Well, consider it a soap box. Sorry. I just found myself in the mood for conversation, as good as it gets during one-sided passing notes back and forth. *chuckle*

Drop by any time. It's always a pleasure to catch up with your reading here on the site.


Lawyer Sarah wrote: "Mike wrote: "Samuel Johnson said, "A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it." That's true, I think. It is in that concept that lies the power of literature to live through the generations,..."

Dear Sarah,

Of course this response to your note is only about a year past being acknowledged. Please accept my apology. You can read of my "explanation" of tardiness in message 27 and my response to it immediately above.

I particularly love the story of your having received Tales from Shakespeare from Charles and Mary Lamb from your great-grandfather. Such gifts are precious. I have a very old volume of Dicken's Christmas Books from a great uncle for which I have the same feelings as you do for your Lamb. And I would take nothing for the many books given me by my grandparents and my mother. They fill a shelf of former birthdays and Christmases. Each volume is a treasure that so easily calls their love for me back as I am still able to return that love through memory of them each time I pick up one of those wonderful gifts.

I regret I missed the smile your story intended on the day you wrote it. However, I am so grateful for the smile I received today when I discovered your post. Many thanks.


Lawyer Cynthia wrote: "Wonderful review! I'm only sorry I watched the movie first! Love Tom Hanks, but it was not one of his best. Happy Spring!"

Egad, Cynthia, I just happened to see your note after receiving an update from a fellow member. Mea culpa for having neglected a comment posted by you almost a year ago.

Yes, I dearly loved this book. However, I found the movie to be a complete disappointment, having read the book. As you noted, I would have expected much more from a Hanks performance. However, I must admit that this novel is not one that easily lends itself to film. That's a shame. Because it is truly a wonderful story.


message 30: by Ned (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ned Mozier This is my second Foer and my favorite. His childish viewpoints are tender and bold, believable especially coming from such a young author. The plot is clever and the connection to Dresden, another fiery terror, left me weeping. These characters stick in my memory. Fortunately I read the book first and just ordered the movie on Netflix. Hope it lives up.


message 31: by Lawyer (last edited Jan 19, 2014 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lawyer Ned wrote: "This is my second Foer and my favorite. His childish viewpoints are tender and bold, believable especially coming from such a young author. The plot is clever and the connection to Dresden, anoth..."

Ned, by all means it is fortunate that you've read the novel. I do not wish to steer anyone away from a book or film, ever. However, this novel falls into the category of one that is difficult to capture the nuances of the novel in film. There are unnecessary plot changes, as there always are. Perhaps with a different script writer, director, etc. I would be very interested in hearing your reaction to the film after you have watched it, compared with your reading the novel.


message 32: by Ned (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ned Mozier Mike, I first read Everything is Illuminated and later saw the film. It was fresh and well done and rather beautifully done. But I always lose a little of that mental imagery that the first reading creates in the mind's eye, and I mourn the loss of that.


Lawyer Ned wrote: "Mike, I first read Everything is Illuminated and later saw the film. It was fresh and well done and rather beautifully done. But I always lose a little of that mental imagery that the first readi..."

I'll definitely have to give that a look. Thanks!


message 34: by Ani (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ani Mike, I'm so happy to see the review of this book here. I know some parts of it by heart, I love it so much and always glad to see someone likes it as well.


message 35: by Mel (new) - added it

Mel I've just finished the book and your review was spot on. Thanks for the summary!


back to top