Take a somewhat neurotic 9-year old boy, a key without a lock, and New York City following September 11th and you have Jonathan Safran Foer’s unique novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Oskar Schell, the story’s primary narrator is a child learning to cope with the death of his father in the World Trade Center. This may sound like a cliché coming of age story, but don’t pigeon hole this book just yet. When Oskar finds a key in his father’s closet, he assumes it is part of a scavenger hunt his father left for him. So begins Oskar’s quest to find the lock and the mystery that awaits him, all in an effort to keep a connection with his dad.
He will not stop until he gets answers even attempting to track down everyone with the surname of Black in the phonebook, accompanied by an elderly mute man. At times witty, frustrating, endearing, and insightful, the loquacious voice of this Stephen Hawking-loving child will keep your attention as he methodically examines every lead.
Oskar’s voice is ever that of a child’s, albeit one with eccentric interests and insights. The people he encounters on his search are all uniquely drawn and profoundly searching in their own ways.
Filling out the story are the voices of Oskar’s grandparents who emigrated from Germany. They each speak in their respective voices, remembering their past in the doomed Dresden and reliving their unusual relationship through a series of long letters.
The tragic experiences that reverberate throughout their lives serve as both a mirror and a foreshadowing of 9/11’s impact. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close handles the subject of 9/11 with an interesting mix of gentleness, abruptness, and sentimentality.
It is surreal and real. Foer manages to create complex, and sometimes predicable characters that will not soon be forgotten.
A challenging book to read out loud, the audio book is artfully done with multiple narrators. The printed version features blank pages, crossed out words, and photos, which the producers have done their best to incorporate while maintaining the flow.