Monday, October 17, 2005
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer on 10 cds, performed by various readers/actors
Oskar Schell is a 9 year old boy living in Manhattan. He's highly intelligent and very neurotic and he has an interesting effect on the people he meets. This is Oskar's story, but it's not just his story, it's also his grandparents' story.
Oskar and his father, Thomas are very close. Thomas has made a point of challenging his son's mind with puzzles, riddles and scavenger hunts. They share a love of math and science and logic and they spend time solving puzzles and finding and correcting mistakes in the New York Times. That is, they did, until September 11, 2001 when Thomas had a breakfast meeting at Windows on the World Restaurant in the World Trade Center.
That day, Oskar was sent home from school early as were most New York students, and had no reason to suspect that his father was anywhere near ground zero. He walked home from school certain that no one he knew would be in harm's way. Oskar goes home to find that his father left five messages on the answering machine. For reasons that even he doesn't fully understand, Oskar goes out, buys an identical answering machine and replaces it, putting the one with his father's messages in the bottom of his closet. He never tells his mother about the messages, but periodically digsout the machine and listens to his father's voice.
While Oskar is forced to deal with the loss of his father, he stumbles across a key in an envelope with the word/name Black written on it. While looking at his father's things in his closet, he knocks over a vase and finds the envelope and key inside. Before his father's death, Oskar had been involved in a scavenger hunt for his dad and had yet to understand what it was that he was looking for. Oskar decides that the envelope must be a part of the hunt and that Thomas left it there for him to find. In an attempt to stay close to his father, he tries to solve the mystery of the key.
The beauty of this book is the adventure. I guess it's one of those "it's not the destination, it's the journey" kind of stories. Oskar doesn't know what it is that he's looking for and he finds a lot in his search. He learns a lot about himself and the people in his world. He has a voyage of self-discovery and realizes just what the people he loves really mean to him.
The story is told first person from the viewpoints of Oskar and each of his paternal grandparents. The grandparents each tell their stories from their youth in Dresden until the present. The present portions of the stories overlap, so you get a sense of multiple viewpoints of the same incidents.
I really enjoyed this book, I even enjoyed the performance. I usually choose an audiobook that I don't think I'll get around to reading. I pick audiobooks from that second tier, books that people are talking about today and you may have missed or forgotten about or lost track of in a year or two. I flip through the pages of notebooks with lists of books that peaked my interest over the last few years, but that I never got around to reading. I'm not sure if this is a book that should have been read, but, at the same time, I would've missed out on this performance and I'm glad that I didn't.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was a complex and well written book. It's sort of sad that I have no problem commenting on books that I hated, but for this book I can't find the right words. Oskar is such a great character. I loved his interactions with people. Most of what I loved about this book had to do with how beautifully emotions were expressed. The characters were an odd assortment of people, but very believable. They drew you in and made you feel for them and that's not easy to do.
Personally, this book affected me on a couple of levels. First, I was a kid who read books about mystery and adventure. I spent summer vacations hoping to stumble upon clues and unearth treasure or solve a mystery, or get to the bottom of a ghost story, or catch a bad guy singlehandedly. Despite my search, I never stumbled across a mystery that I could solve. Oskar went on a treasure hunt of sorts and he gives thought to the clues and sets up a plan of action to follow. What he gives and gets and learns and experiences are all so compelling and heartwarming. The mystery he cracks is not the one he sets out to solve, but what he learns about himself is worth the search. I loved that he is all the goofiness that is a 9 year old boy.
Second, I'm not good with the dead father stuff in movies, books and television, so the premise was hard for me. Oskar's father was young and healthy and taken so suddenly with no time for the boy to come to terms with it. His mother had a funeral where she buried an empty coffin, so Oskar never had a real sense of saying goodbye. I lost my father about a year and a half ago and I can't begin to imagine how much more horrible that would have been at 9. I know that it doesn't matter how much time you have to come to terms with death, whether it is long and expected or sudden. It is equally horrible in every permutation.
There is a lot more to this intricately layered story than I've even touched upon here. I recommend this book to anyone. I think it's worth the time in book form and I loved it on audio.