Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer

Book Description (Amazon):ELIC

Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.

My Review:

Executive Summary: Blech.

I did not like this book, and I was disappointed by that. It gets great reviews. It’s supposed to be so “uplifting”. I couldn’t stand it.

On a side note, I borrowed this book as an e-book from the Houston Public Library. It was my first time trying that out and I intend to do a post about it at a later date. There were +’s and -‘s.

The general story of the book is that 9 year old Oskar Schnell’s father dies in the World Trade Center disaster. He and his mother are going to therapy trying to figure out how to continue with their lives. Oskar also has a kind but somewhat odd and overbearing grandmother who lives across the street with “the renter”. He also comes from an apparently rich family as he has a doorman.

One day Oskar is rummaging around in his parents’ closet and he finds this vase which he breaks and finds a key inside it. The key is in an envelope which says “Black” on it (in red letters). After talking to some “experts”, he determines that it must belong to someone with the last name of Black. He tracks down every Black in the phone book and goes to visit them on his attempt to figure out this mystery.

He eventually figures out that the key belongs to one of the first Blacks that he met but by that point, he has some emotional resolve (I guess?) and doesn’t care what the key opens.

A side story is going on simultaneously about Oskar’s grandmother (who doesn’t have a name) and grandfather (who has never been in the picture). Oskar’s grandfather, Thomas,  initially was in love with Oskar’s grandmother’s sister Anna, in Germany. Anna died in the attack on their town, Dresden, during WW2. Someone Oskar’s grandma reconnected with Thomas in America many years later and he cannot talk any more. They get married and she gets pregnant despite his wishes and he leaves. He returns to find his son and ends up reconnecting with Grandma and becoming the renter.

There were so many annoying things about this book. There were photographs, chapters written in fake marked up drafts, unexplained “inside stories” like heavy boots and nothing spaces, a lack of knowing who was narrating from chapter to chapter. It was frustrating to read. It reminded me of reading Under the Volcano (whose weird writing style at least served a purpose).

They never specifically mentioned that Oskar was autistic, but I think that is what the author was alluding to (there is an emotions book at some point). Oskar is supposed to be 9. Which is HILARIOUS. A) what mother lets a 9 year old wander about New York City talking to strangers about some mysterious key. B) Granted I don’t know a lot of 9 year olds, but it was unrealistic that any act that way. He fluctuated between a weird 5 year old (asking strangers if they could kiss) and a 40 year old (his overwhelming collection of facts which I cannot imagine any child at that age could have collected.)

The story with the grandfather seemed contrived in a way to equate somehow WW2 horrors with modern day terrorism horrors. The grandfather in no way seemed like a believable person for a multitude of reasons (including the fact that he didn’t talk, had been missing for 30+ years with no explanation, etc.) and it just turned a possibly valid connection of tragedy into something unrealistic and almost absurd.

The only part of the book that I kind of enjoyed was the visit to all of the Blacks. I think there is just something about that as an idea which strikes me as so interesting and curious. I just genuinely enjoy listening to people’s stories because no two people have the same one. And I just find it fascinating. If I could get away with what Oskar did, I totally would. I would just be considered a creep.  And, it was pretty great that all of the Blacks came to see Oskar in his play.


2 Stars. Honestly I think this is one of those books that people either love or hate. I’m definitely in the latter. I just think that it just is a book that tries too hard to be weird and edgy and have this great revelation connecting a family through multiple tragedies. I found the characters to be too unrealistic, and honestly if I hadn’t been on an airplane with no other books, I probably would have “shelfed” it before the end.

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Filed under 2 stars, Book Review

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