“I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live.”
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a novel written by Jonathan Safran Foer. The book centers around the tragedy of September 11th, 2001. I just recently finished reading this book as part of a book club during 7th grade. I have to say, I was thoroughly impressed with the way the book was written and truly enjoyed reading this book. At the start of the story, we are introduced to the main character, Oskar Schell, who also narrates the story. On the first page, Oskar begins by inventing in his mind: a birdseed shirt, a teakettle that could whistle songs, and small microphones that played everyone’s heartbeat to the world around them. I loved how the author portrayed Oskar’s personality this way. We also find out that his dad died in the 9/11 attacks, as Oskar relays the phone messages his dad had sent just before he died. In the second chapter, the story is told by a different person, and this time through a letter dated back to 1963. We are introduced to a man who ‘lost his words’, and therefore had to use a notebook to communicate everyday phrases. This man later meets a woman, who, coincidentally, has ‘crummy eyes’. After a staggered conversation, the women later asks the man to marry him.
Throughout the book, the chapters would flip back from Oskar’s perspective to the man’s perspective. Quite honestly, until I finished reading the book, I found the letters to be very confusing to keep track of and understand. At first, I was unsure who was narrating the letters, who ‘Anna’ was (she was mentioned quite a bit throughout the flashbacks), what connection they had to Oskar, and who the letters were written to in the first place. My original prediction was that it was Oskar’s grandfather who had written the letters, which turned out to be correct, when Oskar finds him living secretly with Oskar’s grandmother after he had left for many years, thinking that he had failed on life. While these chapters may have been a bit confusing, they contributed greatly to the story and gave us a large understanding on Oskar’s family history, and the confusion was cleared up at the end of the book. I almost wonder if Jonathan Safran Foer wrote these chapters in this way on purpose, which I believe is an excellent technique to keep the reader enticed and curious about the history of these letters.
After the first chapter told by the grandfather, we return to Oskar’s apartment in New York City. We find Oskar rummaging through his dad’s old closet, where he notices a tuxedo and a strange blue vase that normally would not have been there. Out of curiosity, Oskar attempts to grab the vase, causing it to crash and break on the ground. While he cleans up the mess, Oskar notices an empty white envelope with the word ‘BLACK’ written on the back of the envelope. Inside the envelope was a rustic-looking key.
I realize, by now, that I have already given away plenty of spoilers pertaining to the remainder of the story, so I must encourage you, if you have not yet finished reading ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’, to refrain from reading the rest of the post as I summarize the end of the book. I hope, though, that you have now discovered another book to add to your reading list, as I would certainly recommend this book to you.
After Oskar found the rustic looking key, he began to calculate how many locks he would have to search in New York City. When he added together the birth rate of NYC, how many locks each person owned, and the numerous types of locks, Oskar found that he would always be falling behind by 0.33 locks. Nevertheless, Oskar begins searching New York for people with the last name ‘Black’. While Oskar mainly has no luck finding the matching lock, he does meet several interesting people, including Abby Black, who Oskar feels is holding back information, and Mr. Black, a man who would accompany Oskar on his hunt for the key, but would eventually leave Oskar to himself and Nevertheless, Oskar continued to search until he met his grandfather, who had disappeared for countless years.
Oskar met his grandfather for the first time when he was visiting his grandmother’s apartment, and found that she wasn’t there. Despite being told not to have any interaction with Oskar by his grandmother, the grandfather (Thomas Schell) steps out from behind the guest room and communicates with Oskar using his hands and one of his many notebooks that had been stored in the guest room for several years. At first, Oskar isn’t exactly sure who this man was, he later began to piece together information and realized his true identity. Formerly, he had only been known to Oskar as ‘The Renter’, who the grandmother never revealed to Oskar.
After dozens of failed searches, Oskar has the idea to open up his father’s empty grave with the help of his grandfather. In the dark of night, Oskar slowly reveals the coffin and lifts the lid. He is surprised at how empty the coffin seemed, even though Oskar knew that nothing would be inside before he opened the coffin.
After discovering the emptiness of the coffin, Oskar decided to tell Mr. Black about everything he had encountered, only to find Mr. Black’s belongings being moved away from the apartment and the news that Mr. Black was dead. That leads me to talk about what I loved so much about this book: the emotion. It is extremely evident that Oskar was effected from his dad’s death, especially when he began counting his disappointments and counting his lies. Most of all, he feels apart from the family Oskar has remaining: his mom. He never saw his mom cry, and almost immediately after 9/11, his mom began hanging out with a man named Ron from a support group. Even more, after believing that his mom was just being careless, Oskar found out that she had called each ‘Black’ Oskar was about to visit, warned them, and prevented them from giving any information to Oskar. I honestly felt for Oskar, and could feel his emotions myself as the author continued to add to the pile of Oskar’s feelings and described them- well, almost too well, but in a good way, so that I felt like I was Oskar and going through the hard times in ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’. I applaud Jonathan Safran Foer for this.
I must now discuss in further detail Oskar’s visit to Abby Black. Like I mentioned, the first visit to Abby was pre-arranged by Abby Black. Abby didn’t explain anything of use to Oskar, although Oskar did notice an ongoing conflict between Abby and her husband. After deeming the visit pointless, Oskar returns home disappointed. But later in the story, Abby calls Oskar and confirms his suspicions: that she was holding back information. During his second visit, Abby reveals the truth about her husband: how he had some relation to the key, and that they had recently become divorced. Abby gave Oskar the current location of her ex-husband, and Oskar set out to meet him.
This part of the story was probably the most frustrating to me. When Oskar met with Abby’s old husband, Oskar discovered that the key had no relation to him at all; it was sold to his dad by accident at a garage sale, with the key mistakenly still inside. The husband had been searching for the key for years that would unlock a safe-deposit vault at the bank. I felt like, after all that Oskar had been through, he at least deserved to be rewarded with the lock, but was instead left with less than he had begun with. The ending did make sense, however I was upset at the result of Oskar’s search for a connection to his dad.
Nevertheless, I did enjoy the true ending to the story. The book ended with Oskar imagining what would happen if he could reverse time: how his dad would return home and tell a story to Oskar, how he would be able to spend more time with his dad, but most of all: his dad would be safe.
Thank you so much for reading this book review. I truly enjoyed reading this book and would absolutely recommend it- and so I hope you enjoy reading ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ as much as I did.