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Book Cover of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

A 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer

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This book will give you heavy boots

  • May 6, 2010
The title of Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel may originate from the sound of birds flapping their wings outside the window of 103-year-old Mr. Black’s New York City apartment, but it could also describe what people trapped in the twin towers of the World Trade Center heard on September 11, 2001 as the hijacked airliners approached. The narrator of the book is a (sometimes annoyingly) precocious 9-year-old named Oskar Schell whose father died in the 9/11 tragedy. Oscar’s knowledge, insight, and quirks seem excessive and presumably are designed to establish his credibility as a narrator. The novel is about terrible personal loss. In addition to Oscar’s grief, the story of his grandparents is related. His grandfather Thomas lost his pregnant lover Anna in the firebombing of Dresden during World War II, an experience that literally took his voice away. Thomas and Anna’s sister meet in New York and enter a loveless marriage founded on shared grief. Thomas leaves for Europe when she is pregnant with their son Thomas, who is Oscar’s father. We find out late in the book that Oscar’s grandfather has returned to New York and is the enigmatic “renter” who lives in his grandmother’s apartment.
Oscar sends letters to famous people such as Ringo Starr (who sends a nice letter and signed T-shirt) and Jane Goddard (who puts off his requests to serve as a research assistant). He repeatedly receives form letters from Steven Hawking, until late in the novel when he receives a personal response in which the astrophysicist admits he’d always wanted to be a poet. In “A Brief History of Time,” Hawking puzzles over why the arrow of time points only in one direction. At the end of the novel, Oscar envisions time moving backwards on 9/11 – the planes flying in reverse out of the buildings, and his father going down the elevator, out of the building, backwards on the subway to his apartment where he shaves in reverse.
Oscar accidently breaks a blue vase in his father’s closet and finds an envelope with the word “Black” written on it and a key inside. He decides to visit everyone in New York City named “Black” in an attempt to find the lock the key opens and learn something about his father. The search leads him through the boroughs to people of various ages and socioeconomic situations. Each has his or her own personal story. The odyssey is as a path for Oscar through his grief. Although at first his mother seems clueless about Oscar’s potentially dangerous peregrinations, we later find that she was monitoring the situation and used the aged Mr. Black to look after Oscar on his journeys. We also find out late in the novel that one of the first people he talked to actually did have some crucial information.
Oscar’s mother is not seen very sympathetically from his vantage point. He can’t understand why she has a new “friend” named Ron and why they occasionally can be heard laughing together. At one point, Oscar tells her he wishes it could have been her instead of his dad who died in the 9/11 attacks – that’s a pretty horrible thing for a grieving parent to hear from a child. At the end of the book, we find that his mother met Ron in a support group for people who have lost family members – Ron’s wife and daughter were killed in an auto accident. Oscar realizes he has been too judgmental of his mother.

Writing in "The Guardian," Hamish Hamilton says, "Inauthentic though Foer's creations may seem, they are suffused with a profound sadness for things lost, a yearning to reconstitute a shattered past, to retrieve the irretrievable, repair the irreparable, express the inexpressible." If you can get past the clever cuteness of the narrator and the visual techniques (gimmicks?) used in the book, it's a very moving story about one child's passage through grief.

This book will give you heavy boots

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May 08, 2010
Fantastic review, Steve.  What an interesting plot, sounds like a really powerful book.  Have you seen Cafe Libri?  It's a book community on Lunch and your book reviews would be perfect fits there!  Thank you for sharing, Steve.
May 08, 2010
Thanks for the shout out to the community, Debbie! I will send you an invite, Steve. :)
May 09, 2010
Thanks, I contacted Adrianna (I think) and went ahead and forwarded my book reviews to the Cafe Libri community (again, I think I did). Steve
More Extremely Loud and Incredibly ... reviews
review by . June 29, 2010
I'm Ok.
Foer knows how to grip a heart. A story about a young boy losing his father in the 9/11 atrocity, Extremely Loud Surprised me because it was so utterly different from what I thought it would be. A distinct narrative about the thoughts of a 9 year old boy, it illuminates a tragic story with a child like sense of wonder, pain, confusion, curiosity and hope.  Oskar is a precocious kid if there ever was one, and sometimes I found myself skeptical of the characters emotions. However, it …
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
The first bit is so different from the end that the heaviness is a little unsettling, but it is an absolutely fascinating story and a very touching story for everyone who remembers the aftermath of 9/11.
Quick Tip by . June 25, 2010
Truly amazing. Foer's writing touches me every time I read him.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
By far,my favorite book EVER. Oskar is a one of a kind character that stays with you long after the book is finished. I cried and laughed a million time reading this masterpiece.
review by . June 12, 2010
The literary prowess of Jonathan Safran Foer is the most inventive and startlingly adept style than seen in any other decade of the written word. After his publication of Everything is Illuminated, it was certain Foer was an imagination that could not be competed with. With his latest literary creation, Extremely Loud, Foer reshapes the way we look at the novel, scrapbooking, photography, color in text, flipbooks, and emotion. Foer tells the story of an extremely particular and incredibly unpredictable …
review by . December 11, 2008
I'm not much for crying, especially in public, especially on public transportation.  In my car, sure, but on a bus?  a train?  an airplane?? No way, no thank you, not for me.    But as I read the last pages of this novel, 30,000 feet above the ground, in a metal tube with 100 strangers, I wept openly.    Oskar Schell lost his father in the September 11th attacks.  Oskar's father lost his father long before that.  As Oskar tries to …
About the reviewer
Steve DiBartola ()
Ranked #155
I was invited to join Lunch by one of the developers, who apparently read some reviews I posted on Library Thing. My interests are books, music, and movies. I enjoy both classical and contemporary fiction, … more
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About this book


Published in 2005, this novel was Safran Foer's follow up to his first novel, Everything is Illuminated.  Both books have met with praise and skepticism across the literary community.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close follows the journey of Oskar Schell as he tries to piece together his life and his history after his father's death in The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
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ISBN-10: 0618329706
ISBN-13: 978-0618329700
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Date Published: April 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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"Moved to Tears on an Airplane"
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