Typically I choose what I'm going to read based on whether or not I think it will amuse me. So it goes without saying that I wouldn't have picked up this book had it not been recommended to me by a good friend.
I will admit that I was more then a little weary of reading a book that dealt with 9/11 on any level, because, clearly the events on 9/11--while very important--aren't something one likes to think about if it can be avoided. That being said, I love this book.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tells the story of an unusual nine-year-old boy named Oskar--who, in my mind, is an equal combination of the boy from Mark Hadden's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and the main character from John Green's An Abundance of Katherines--and his attempt to come to terms with his father's untimely death.
This book also goes into the melancholy story of Oskar's grandmother and grandfather, their relatively brief time together and the circumstances behind their parting. Their story, told from his grandmother's perspective, is one of my many favorite parts in this book, but I'll get to that later.
Oskar's journey begins when he discovers a vase that was kept on a shelf in his father wardrobe. Unfortunately in an attempt to retrieve the mysterious vase Oskar causes it to fall and break. While cleaning up Oskar discovers an envelope among the shards of glass. On the envelope is written one word: Black. The envelope contains one thing: a key.
Oskar has no way of knowing what the key opens but the mystery behind it, and the connection to his deceased father--who used to send him on scavenger-type hunts around Manhattan--gives him the drive to find out. Oskar figures out that the word Black is a last name so he decides to visit every single Black in the five boroughs of New York City, to ask them if they knew his father, and/or if they know what the key opens.
Throughout his journey Oskar meets a lot of interesting people, has interesting conversations, and unique experiences. Though, it doesn't seem to bring him closer to his father, but it gives him a purpose, and that seems to be enough for a while.
It is obvious from the beginning that he and his mother aren't especially close. According to Oskar, his mother spends too much time with a new friend--a man--and Oskar doesn't like that she's moving on, despite the fact that she's mourned her husband for two years already. What his mother doesn't know is, there is another reason as to why Oskar has been distancing himself from her. He has a secret. A secret which has to do with something he did the same morning his father died. Little by little, Oskar lets the reader know more about his secret, why he's so ashamed of himself and why he is having an extremely difficult time dealing with his father's death.
Oskar is close to his grandmother--his father's mother--or rather, she's incredibly close to him. At first glance their relationship seems more then a little dysfunctional, and even now I can't say that it isn't even now that I know, and understand, the reason behind the dysfunction. She's guilty of loving, and possibly depending on, Oskar a little too much since her own son died.
But like I said earlier, I love her story, the letter she writes to Oskar about his--still unknown to Oskar--grandfather, who abandoned her while she was pregnant with Oskar's father. She writes about how she met and eventually fell in love with his grandfather. She writes about their marriage and how it ended. Her story is a little frustrating at first since it is written with little punctuation, but, it is beautiful!
The way she tells her story is so simplistic, exactly like a grandmother telling a story to her young grandchild. I know, that's what her letter is supposed to be, but you'd be surprised how many books I've read--which are also told by multiple narrators--that failed to do this exact same thing. The author, Jonathan Safran Foer is obviously quite gifted, the evidence is plastered over this whole book. But, in my opinion, he did his best work writing the story from the grandparent's point of view, especially when it comes to the grandmother, how she tells her tale.
I wish I had the words to explain exactly how this book makes me feel. Unfortunately I don't. My vocabulary sucks (as evidenced in my usage of the word 'sucks'). But I'm going to try (I'll try to avoid using lame clichés, but I'm sort of untalented in the writing department so I can't make any promises. Sorry).
This book is beautiful. I felt like I was with Oskar, his grandmother and his grandfather on their journey. I laughed with them, and cried with them. I felt their heartache, and their triumphs. I understood them and their crazy ways. This books is a rollercoaster and I enjoyed every moment of it.
No, this book isn't a life changer, but it is incredibly good--a worthwhile read. I love this book and I'm glad it was recommended to me. I'll read this book again, guaranteed. It's one of my favorite books now and I'm pretty sure I have a new favorite author.
(To my LDS friends: this book contains swear words. Don't say I didn't warn you. That is all.)