Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I’m trying to stop buying books I haven’t read.  Trying being the operative word.  I own almost 400 of them, and I keep making lists of new ones I want.  So I’m making an effort to stop buying and read what I already have.

I bought Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close because I thought I needed it for class.  It didn’t make it to the final syllabus, but I started reading it while I was taking a break during finals week.  Actually, it was the dedication that inspired me to choose it out of the fourteen or so books I had at school.

“For Nicole, my idea of beautiful”

The book was written by Jonathan Safran Foer.  Most book reviewers might tell you a little about his publication or education history.  All I will say is that I was intrigued because, while I worked at The Daily Tar Heel, I wrote an article about UNC and Duke collaborating for the summer reading program by reading his Eating Animals simultaneously.

If you know anything about the book (or the movie based on it), you know that its story has its roots in the tragedy of September 11th.  It is about that, but it’s also about a kid who has lost his father.  It’s about a family who has had to move on in that aftermath.  And it is about understanding other sides of the story.  The primary focus is Oskar, the 9 year-old, but we also have sections that are written in the perspective of his grandparents.  We see what their lives were like before the attacks, what other tragedies they have lived through, and what happens next.  But the most interesting perspective may be the one we don’t get directly: Oskar’s mother.  It isn’t until he opens himself up to her that they have a real conversation about how it has affected her as well.  Oskar is on a concrete, tangible journey to find a lock that matches a key his father left behind, but he is also on a less distinct journey to find a way to fill the gap that has been left in his family.

The format of the book contributes to its narrative.  It includes pictures and photographs that allows the reader to see what the narrators are seeing.  Even the way the words are formatted, some as a single sentence on a page, some as completely justified to the margins, some running together, show exactly how the characters see them, and how the events are affecting their ability to tell the story.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was heavy, but also heart-warming.  Perhaps most importantly, it was extremely well-written with sensitivity to the difficult topic that propelled the story.  The characters grew over the course of the story, and there were no unnecessary words or events.

The ending (slight spoiler alert) was satisfying in part because it didn’t wrap everything up in a bow.  Someone is still dead, and that is still a difficult thing to live with.  The journey is not complete.  Oskar has just taken a huge step forward in living with his grief.

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