Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close tells the story of Oskar Schell, a nine-year-old boy who lost his father in the 9/11 attacks. After Oskar finds a key hidden in his father’s closet, he sets out to find the box it opens. This adventure brings him to different places in New York and reveals his family’s history.
What I love about Jonathan Safran Foer’s books is that he always experiments with books itself. Why wouldn’t you include photographs, empty or even black pages? Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close also shows the doodles people make when testing different pens in art shops (you know, the notepads where we write the colour of the pen or our name on).
Just because Foer does this, I already like his books.
But I have more reasons for liking Foer! Especially in this novel I fell in love with the main character. Oskar is extremely clever and incredibly sad. He often invents things when he cannot sleep:
“In bed that night I invented a special drain that would be underneath every pillow in New York, and would connect to the reservoir. Whenever people cried themselves to sleep, the tears would all go to the same place, and in the morning the weatherman could report if the water level of the Reservoir of Tears had gone up or down, and you could know if New York is in heavy boots.”
The novel doesn’t only covers Oskar’s loss. It’s also about using and losing language. Oskar’s grandfather loses words one by one. At the end, he cannot even say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ anymore and decides to tattoo these words on the palms of his hands.
What he can do is write. He writes on everything: on the shower curtain, on his own writing, on the table, on his wife. But still he cannot really communicate with her (who, by the way, is writing her life’s story which consists only of white spaces). They both don’t seem to be able to break through this emptiness, this nothingness, which emerged after the traumatic WWII bombing of Dresden.
In this way, I think Foer beautifully portrays traumatised people and how they deal with it differently. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in language, trauma and human identity.