Shelly 's Reviews > Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
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's review
Jun 08, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: recommended-and-or-gifted-by-friend
Recommended to Shelly by: Kim
Read in May, 2009

Thanks to GR I now want to read essentially every book my friends rate/review highly. On top of that, I have a problem of loving to buy books the way the some women love to buy shoes or handbags. (I hate stereotypes, but I think that one holds up pretty well.) So after I finished my last book I was like "Now what?" I decided to dive into a sci-fi book gifted from a GR friend (who is now my "real life" friend), but had a hard time getting into it. So I cheated on her, err it. I went back to my stack of unread books and decided to pick up Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I was hesitant about Foer b/c I know his other book (or one of his other books, I haven't done any research to see how many he's written) was turned into what to me looked like a ridiculous movie with the dude from the hobbit movies with the big weird eyes who annoys me. Ultimately I decided it's not really fair to hold that against him. Maybe the book is good? Anyhow, I'm rambling now so let's get to it.

I really, really liked this book. I found myself thinking about it when I wasn't reading it and being excited to get back to it. I finished in three days, which for me says a lot.

OK, so, IF I had rated this book as soon as I finished it I probably would've given it at least four stars, maybe even five. But since I didn't want to get busted for cheating on my sci-fi book, I put off reviewing it for awhile. In that time I have read a couple of somewhat negative reviews that brought up some points that rang true to me.

First let me give a brief summary of the story (for the very few of you who don't know by now): Time: 9/11, one year later. Setting: NYC. Main Character: Nine year old boy, Oskar, who's just lost his Dad in the WTC. Oskar is also the story's narrator. Oskar loves the internet and knowledge and tinkering and inventing and exploring and hasn't yet come to terms (not that one ever does) with his Father's death. His mom has started dating again and this is problematic for Oskar. Although he is extremely bright, the adults in Oskar's world can't get a handle on him and worry about his behavior/state of mind. His grandmother (his Dad's mom) lives right across the street from him and, as most grandmother's do, loves to dote on him and spend lots of time with him. Oskar, unlike most grandkids, likes to spend time with her, too. I'm not sure Oskar has a friend his own age. I think part of Oskar's shtick is that kids his own age don't get him. I could be wrong, though.

OK I don't think I'm being as brief here as I intended but let me just add that the plot of the story has to do with a key Oskar finds in his Dad's closet that he is convinced will, if he can just figure out what it goes to, give him more insight into who his Dad was, thus helping him deal with his loss. The quest begins! Enter a varied cast of assorted New Yorkers with stories of their own who all find Oskar as endearing as the reader does, or should. Apart from the main plot consisting of the mystery of the key, there is a subplot involving Oskar's estranged grandfather and the relationship (or lack thereof) he has with his grandmother and father. The two stories end up weaving together and, in the end, there is, for me, an extremely sweet and touching denouement involving Oskar, his Dad, and his Grandfather.

Now onto the criticism (finally!). The character that is Oskar's grandfather was sort of annoying and there was a bit of nonsense involving the marriage between the grandfather and grandmother and private spaces and silent communication and magazine purchasing. I'm afraid Foer may have felt that creating Oskar's grandfather as a WWII/Dresden bombing survivor might not make him sympathetic enough and decided to throw in a dead girlfriend and a loss of the ability to speak. For me this was going too far. On top of that his grandmother (sister to the dead girlfriend) was just plain weird when it came to the relationship between her and the grandfather. So for me, it was all about Oskar's story and his voice. Fortunately (for me anyway), that part of the story is so strong and so well written that the other more unbelievable bits are (overall) easy to put up with.

There is one scene in particular that really got to me and made me forget about all the other bullshit that may have bothered me. It's the scene where Oskar finally meets the man behind the key. Their encounter is sincere and sweet and emotionally moving without being gimmicky or overly sentimental. And anyone who reviews this book and fails to acknowledge that is full of shit. Granted, one honest exchange between two characters does not a great book make, but it does go to show that Foer has created something at the least credible and at best truly special here. Bag on his literary tricks and gimmicks in other parts of the book all you want, but the emotion evoked in this particular scene is completely legit and to suggest otherwise is proof that you are either pigheaded or emotionally bankrupt.

While I do think there's some legitimate criticism out there regarding what some refer to as Foer's use (or misuse, or confused use--whatever) of magic realism, the bottom line is there's not enough distraction there to take away from Oskar's story, and that's what the book is truly all about.
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Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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RandomAnthony Excellent...yes, I didn't like his first one either, but I liked this book a lot...I agree with what you're saying about Oskar and his voice.

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

I loved that key scene. And don't read "Everything is Illuminated." I'll totally read his next book in a heartbeat, though.

I always have to pimp out my bff Marie's review of this when someone reviews it:

message 3: by Ben (new) - rated it 1 star

Ben Excellent review, Shelly. Very even-handed and well thought-out.

Matt Very nice. The negatives that you pointed out sound very valid, but you described the good parts in such loving detail that I find myself wanting to read this book.

message 5: by Kim (last edited Jun 08, 2009 05:24PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim I'm really glad you liked it, Shelly. I agree that there was some distraction with the grandparent story line, but I loved that part almost as much as Oskar's story. I get that people felt this was gimmicky, but in my cynical literary life, I'm so often annoyed with the formula and the banal that when I fall for the gimmick, I fall hard.

P.S. I reviewed this a day or so after I read it and even while writing the review I was bawling. I guess that's also a telltale 5 star-er for me.

P.S.S. I apologize for my horrendous grammar, I need to sleep. (Did I spell horrendous correctly? Oy.)

Jason Great review, particularly about the key scene. (I'm just echoing Montambo, I know. But she is right, and so are you.)

There's a big smackback against the new-cutesy sort-of-ironic-sort-of-emo folks like Foer and Wes Anderson (screw you, Kowalski!) and (particularly) Eggers, but there are these moments in the best of their respective work where they tunnel under the fence between the gimmick and the genuine, their cleverness (like Oskar's?) is revealed as utterly, sincerely heartfelt. I was so startled by how damn moving that key scene was--I mean, I had been enjoying the book, but at arm's length, impressed (mostly) by its formal energies and then WHAM I was suddenly caught up, teary-eyed, nervously looking around to see if anyone had caught me out.

message 7: by D. (new)

D. Pow Go, Mike, Go!

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

This book made me cry like no other book since "Where the Red Fern Grows."

Shelly Yes, Mike! Exactly. I'm such a defensive person by nature and when someone pans something I like (or worse:, I wanna say "Oh yeah?! Well Fuck you, Asshole! I liked it!" But then reason kicks in and I have to admit, "Yeah, I guess you're right about that." But failure to acknowledge the work as a whole is lazy and irresponsible. I know I've had moments where I cried at something that was so utterly ridiculous and predictable (see Extreme Home Makeover) and gotten mad at myself for stepping right into a trap and acting just as the man behind the black curtain had expected me to, and I think that might be what's happening with some of the people who have a negative reaction to this book, but I just didn't get the sense that Foer was using cheap tricks when it came to Oskar's emotional responses to his Dad's death. Does quirk get old? Yeah, for sure. It's not something that's easy to pull off. I read some review where people read it for a book club and the majority of them thought Oskar was autistic. I can see that. Maybe all his "differentness" seemed hokey to people. But I bought it and I don't think I'm a sucker for doing so. Furthermore, there's nothing disingenuous about a boy not wanting his mom to move on after his father died, or obsessing about whether his dad was one of the ones who jumped to his death or not.

I don't know. I hate people who see a Pollack or a Mondrian and say "How is this art? I could totally do this!" Well, maybe so asshole but you DIDN'T do it. And just because this particular work doesn't do anything for you, doesn't mean it's not valid, or it's cheap.

Anyway, rant over. Thanks for all the positive comments, you big pussies!

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

I have such a huge fear of losing my dad, which is probably also a reason why I just cared about Oskar.

I read three novels that year that "featured" the Dresden bombing/Zoo fallout (one was Wind-Up Bird, and I can't remember the third) and this was the third one and I was like WTF?! Books are trying to destroy me.

Chris You need to give yourself more credit, Shelly. Your views on this book are every bit as valid as that chubby dude's. Every book needs a writer and a reader. Without a reader, the book is like the tree that falls in the woods with no one around to hear it or whatever. Since every reader brings his/her own unique viewpoint and life experiences to every book he/she reads, then every book will mean something different to every reader. A blowhard will try to tell you that his take on a book is more valid than yours but do you really want to trust a guy who is probably known in his hometown as That Guy Who Crapped In The Pool When He Was 15?

message 12: by Robert (new)

Robert "I don't know. I hate people who see a Pollack or a Mondrian and say "How is this art? I could totally do this!" Well, maybe so asshole but you DIDN'T do it. And just because this particular work doesn't do anything for you, doesn't mean it's not valid, or it's cheap."

Absolutely, plus, actually they couldn't do it well, either.

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