Jason's Reviews > Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
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's review
Nov 03, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: for-kindle, 2011, reviewed
Read in November, 2011

** spoiler alert ** This book gives me heavy boots.

On the one hand, Foer writes an interesting story. An eight year-old boy Oskar, two years after his father’s death in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, embarks on a scavenger hunt, searching for clues to a key his father left behind, a key that he believes opens a mysterious lock somewhere in New York City. Oskar is precocious to say the least. I thought several times that he reminds me a bit of Holden Caulfield, albeit younger and somewhat less pessimistic. Intertwined with Oskar’s account are the stories of his grandparents who are survivors of the bombings of Dresden, Germany during World War II. The grandparents relate their own experiences of loss and grief through letters and journal entries that shed light on the national tragedy they lived through two generations earlier.

One of the problems I have with this book (i.e. the other hand) is that Foer’s heavy use of typographical gimmicks is distracting and unnecessary. Some of Oskar’s discoveries during his scavenger hunt occur somewhat too conveniently. And are we really supposed to feel bad for Oskar’s grandfather for being so “broken” over losing the love of his life? Because I don’t. It’s been 58 years, guy—get over it. You’re not tragic and pitiable, you’re a fucking loser for leaving your family.

And if there’s one thing I can’t wrap my head around, it’s the timing surrounding the disappearance of Oskar’s friend Mr. Black. Although it doesn’t weigh heavily on the plot of the novel, small details like this bother me. On p. 285, the first sentence reads, “The day after the renter and I dug up Dad’s grave, I went to Mr. Black’s apartment.” We know that when Oskar does go to Mr. Black’s apartment, he retrieves a biograph card from Mr. Black’s index. We also know that he is wearing this biograph card on his person during his meeting with William Black (a different Black) later that day (p. 295). How, then, is it possible that directly before the grave digging operation, Oskar is able to relate to his grandfather (the “renter”) the details of what he learned in his meeting with William Black (p. 302) if the grave digging operation itself is supposed to have happened the day before retrieving the biograph card??

If someone could explain that last part for me, I’d greatly appreciate it. In the meantime, here’s an overall timeline I made to help myself better understand the interweaving plot lines:

1921 – letter written by prisoner of Turkish labor camp
1936 – prisoner’s letter received by Oskar’s grandmother (who must have been about 6 years old and therefore born around 1930)
1943 – after spending 7 years collecting letters for handwriting samples, Oskar’s grandmother collects a letter from Thomas Schell who is seeing her sister
1945 – Dresden firebombings (indisputable), Anna dies
1950 – Oskar’s grandmother (~20 years old) moves to USA and meets a mute Thomas Schell; this date is based on the grandmother’s declaration that “7 years had passed” which I took to assume since obtaining Thomas’s handwriting sample in 1943, as it’s the only thing that makes sense to me.
1963 – Thomas Schell leaves Oskar’s grandmother
1964 – Oskar’s father is born
1995 – Oskar is born
2001 – Oskar’s father dies (indisputable), Thomas Schell returns
2003 – present day (Oskar discovers key, learns mystery of its origin, digs up his father’s grave, and Oskar’s grandparents move to the airport).
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Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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message 1: by Janice (new)

Janice are you trying to be discovered?

Jason I was bored. :)

message 3: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Wow! Are you in a book club?

message 4: by Janice (new)

Janice :)

Jason Both of you be quiet. I am a nerd having some fun. :D
Sue, at least you can see there is plenty to talk about!
My book club is still reading Let the Right One In... sooo s-l-o-w...

message 6: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Funny. I think you should join a few different book clubs to keep yourself busy!!!

Sandy Hi all, not sure if I will be too late for anyone to read this. Jason, I liked your comments. I had some thoughts about some of these.
A. I wondered if the Mr. Black who lived upstairs, could have been the father of the man who sold Oskar's dad the vase? I dont have the timing straight in my head, but the vase was sold as part of an estate sale. It would be convoluted if that is the case, but would make a good story, IMO. Maybe he was a ghost? Oskar and the Mr. Black in 6A did refer to ghost in their discussions. The man who sold the vase said his Dad's name was Edmond Black, and Oskar was close to the E's in the alphabet when he went up to 6A. It really bugged me, too, that I didnt learn anymore about that connection. Maybe I just made it all up to satisfy myself?
B. I am not so sure that Thomas Schell Sr. ever actually left that apartment. The thought occurred to me that he could have been there hiding out for 40 years. I kinda got the idea his emotional dissolution was more severe than just his attachment to Anna, and hinged on his experience of the carnage during the Dresden bombings. Didnt it say every square inch of his room was covered in writing? So, I guess I thought is was possible he just "emotionally" left his family. Maybe I made all that up for myself too!
Anyway..... I enjoyed your post.

message 8: by s.p (new)

s.p ah yes, I do remember reading this review now. The typographical gimmicks did seem unnessesary, and seem to be becoming overused in modern books. 3 stars still, not bad. His earlier book Tree of Codes seems super gimmicky as well, but at least it is re-using Streets of Crocodiles, which I loved.

Jason Yeah, this book isn't bad, it's just that it has a lot of eye roller moments for me, mostly do to the gimmickry, which loses it a few stars in my opinion. For example, in one case, to reflect the fact that the protagonist is writing a letter in which he tries to squeeze his last thought onto a page, the actual writing in the book gets squeezed together until one line merges into the next. Stuff like that.

MJ loves it, though, so I think you should make up your own mind.

Jason There's another chapter that is covered in red correction ink as if someone went in and edited it before publishing.

message 11: by s.p (new)

s.p It's one I've been meaning to read, just so many books. Yeah, stuff like that one some days I find really cool and creative, and on others (most) I scoff at.

Carey Shea I really liked your review. I didn't really like the book. Just too wierd for me and just didn't get it. Hey, not everyone likes certain books that don't make sense.

Jason Yeah, I agree; this was not the best book evarrr.

Carey Shea I can't understand why people give it high praises. I don't get it!

Jason Saied Hey, I just wanted to clear up your confusion about the stuff with Mr. Black and digging up the grave. But I have a question: does it actually say anywhere that he wore the card when he met with William Black? Because I've been searching and I can't find that.
But anyway, the meeting with William was NOT the same day as the day he went into Mr. Black's apartment. It just seems that way because of how Oskar talks; in the beginning of the chapter he's in the apartment and finds the card, and this is after he hasn't talked to Mr. Black in months. Then suddenly he says "I kept looking for the lock after he told me he was finished, but it wasnt the same. I went to Far Rockaway... etc" He transitions to the past and starts talking about the different Blacks he visited, and how after that last Black, he found out about the message from Abby and ended up seeing William. William was the same day as PETER Black (287), which happened way before he went into Mr. Black's apartment.
I hope this helps, and I'm sorry if he really does mention wearing the card when he sees William, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't.

Jason Jason wrote: "But I have a question: does it actually say anywhere that he wore the card when he met with William Black? Because I've been searching and I can't find that."

Thanks for trying to help me clear up the confusion, Jason, but here's the paragraph from when Oskar meets with William Black and it does reference the biograph card he got from the 'other' Mr. Black:
He said, "So what's so special about the envelope?" "Nothing, exactly. It's what was in the envelope." "Which was?" "Which was this." I pulled the string around my neck, and made it so the key to our apartment was on my back and Dad's key rested on the pouch of my overalls, over Mr. Black's biography, over the Band-Aid, over my heart. "Can I see that?" he asked. I took it off of my neck and handed it to him. He examined it and asked, "Did it say something on the envelope?" "It said 'Black.'" He looked up at me. "Did you find it in a blue vase?" "Jose!"
So this meeting had to have occurred after he went to Mr. Black's apartment, would you not agree?

Nancy Your review expressed my mixed feelings about this book. I especially agree with your comments about Oskar's grandfather.

Susana Pereira I liked your review because I'm a bit like you: when I'm reading a book, I'm always making mental calculations and connections between what is being said and what has been told so far... I hate when there are discrepancies and I was also puzzled by that "Mr. Black's biography"...
On the other hand I really enjoyed the book with all its gimmicks and just wanted to share what I think to be the meaning of one of those: the letter covered in red correction ink must be the only letter that Thomas Schell senior ever sent to his son, because he was always carrying a red pen to mark the mistakes he found in the newspaper. I think it was a clever way of letting us know that that was the letter sent by the grandfather... :)

Jason I think in the end I liked it, too, though not as much as I had hoped to.

I do plan on reading other JSF books, as well. I've heard good things about Everything Is Illuminated.

Thanks for your comment, Susana!

message 20: by Mary (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mary D. I agree with your review - I skipped a lot of this book - I found it too hard to follow, for me it didn't consistently carry a comprehensible narrative thread.

Jason I'm about to start another book of his, actually. We'll see if I like it better.

Jason Nope.

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