Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
No, this book is not about September 11th, or terrorists, or violence – although all of those things are pieces of the story. Extremely Loud and Incredibly close deals with one family’s journey through grief and back again, all through the discerning eyes of young Oskar Schell. The writing is fantastic and the characters oh-s0-real. But the best part of this book is how it reaches down inside you and pulls out a laugh or a tear, sometimes all in one chapter.
Thomas Schell died on September 11th, leaving behind one mother, one wife, one son, and five voicemails. Oskar, arriving home just as his father leaves his last voicemail of that morning, can’t bring himself to pick up the phone. He hides the voicemails in the back of his closet, protecting his mom, but also keeping a large amount of guilt, grief, and comfort to himself. He unpacks the voicemails and replays them whenever he’s feeling lost or lonely. And that’s a lot. Oskar calls it “getting heavy boots.”
Oskar is nine. His father was his hero, his friend, his teacher. His dad was his everything. Oskar is having a hard time moving on, mostly because he doesn’t think a father is something from which you should move on.
One day, Oskar goes into his father’s closet, tyring to recapture the smell of the man: “Even though Dad’s coffin was empty, his closet was full. And even after more than a year, it still smelled like shaving.” Oskar finds his father’s watch that he’ll never wear again, a tuxedo laid out on a chair, and a blue vase hidden in a high corner. Oskar, a curious boy to say the least, decides to inspect this previously unnoticed item: “I couldn’t reach it, obviously, so I moved over the chair with the tuxedo still on it, and then I went to my room to get the Collected Shakespeare set that Grandma bought for me when she found out that I was going to be Yorick, and I brought those over, four tragedies at a time, until I had a stack that was tall enough.” Oskar and the vase tumble to the floor. The vase shatters and an envelope emerges. An envelope with one word scrawled on it: “Black.” And one thing hidden within: a key.
And so begins Oskar’s new obsession. What does Black mean? It’s a name, obviously! And what is this key for? It opens something, obviously! And what’s the connection to his father? … Oskar doesn’t know, but he’s determined to find out. If his father left something behind, it is Oskar’s duty find it.
So Oskar dedicates every weekend to meeting every person with the last name of “Black” in New York City. He’ll do it himself, not worry his mom. She wouldn’t understand. He’ll start with Aaron and work his way to Zyna. “Even if it was relatively insignificant, it was something, and I needed to do something, like sharks, who die if they don’t swim, which I know about,” he reasons.
Oskar meets with disappointment at every stop…none of the Blacks knew his father, or what the key could possibly unlock. But he also meets a host of fascinating characters: some old, some young, men, women, happy, sad, poor, rich…And he talks to them all. Many of his new friends will show up at his elementary school’s performance of Hamlet. Oskar is playing Yorick…the skull Hamlet talks to in the graveyard.
Oskar also unknowingly meets his grandfather, who’s perspective you will also get in a smattering of chapters. His grandfather, named Thomas Schell, once loved a beautiful girl in Dresden, Germany. But that was before the war, before the bombing that burned the once wonderful city to the ground. Thomas moves to America, to New York City, and starts his life over again. But he finds things slipping away from him. Little things at first. ” ‘Want was a word I lost early on, which is not to say that I stopped wanting things–I wanted things more–I just stopped being able to express the want, so instead I said ‘desire,’ ‘I desire two rolls,’ I would tell the baker, but that wasn’t quite right, the meaning of my thoughts started to float away from me, like leaves that fall from a tree into a river, I was the tree, the world was the river.” Oskar’s granmother, and the sister of Thomas’ now-dead young lover, finds Thomas in a cafe. They get married. He eventually runs back to Dresden, to try and recover so many of the things he lost.
These two lost boys will help each other heal from the loss of their respective father and son, from their guilt and regrets.
Because, as I said before, this book isn’t about terrorism. It’s about love.
This was my favorite book of 2o11.
And I’m in love with Oskar Schell.
- Marshall Fine: Movie review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (huffingtonpost.com)
- David Denby: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “We Bought a Zoo” reviews. (newyorker.com)
- REVIEW: ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ Shows How Life Goes On After Tragedy – Fox News (foxnews.com)
- ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ Explains Too Much (Review) (popmatters.com)
- Brace Yourselves for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (entertainment.time.com)