Title: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Length: 326 pages
In a vase in a closet, a couple of years after his father died in 9/11, nine-year-old Oskar discovers a key…The key belonged to his father, he’s sure of that. But which of New York’s 162 million locks does it open? So begins a quest that takes Oskar – inventor, letter-writer and amateur detective – across New York’s five boroughs and into the jumbled lives of friends, relatives and complete strangers. He gets heavy boots, he gives himself little bruises and he inches ever nearer to the heart of a family mystery that stretches back fifty years. But will it take him any closer to, or even further from, his lost father?
Thank God that I’ve finally gotten around to reading this book. I first received this book years ago- I think I was maybe in grade 5? My mom had picked it up for me, but I was never able to get into it (I think that the complex storylines/switching back and forth of POVs was a bit too much for me to absorb- and honestly, I’m actually kind of glad I never finished it in grade 5, since this book describes sex and depicts sexual scenes, and that would have been really confusing for 9 year old me) <- highlight over the blank text for [semi] spoilers.
I liked this packaging! Like I mentioned, I first got this book back when I was pretty young, and I remember thinking that it was pretty unusual, but really curious. I basically still feel the same way.
I’m really not sure where I stand when it comes to the writing style of this book. On one hand, Jonathan Safran Foer’s writing could be extremely beautiful, to the point of making me tear up (I rarely cry, even when reading). His words could be simple, but overflowing with emotion, and his prose could be so raw and full of feeling. But on the other hand, his writing could be distracting (from the plot), difficult, sprawling, frustrating, and even annoying (at times).
While there were parts of this book that were absolutely beautiful and taut with emotion, my enjoyment of Jonathan Safran Foer’s writing was just too inconsistent. I think if I could describe it in just one word, it would be extra.
The characters, with all of their idiosyncrasies and defining characteristics, were definitely my favorite part of this book. I loved being able to read from the three different POVs that were all intertwined- from Oskar’s POV to his grandmother’s to Thomas’s (his grandfather).
Oskar is an extremely precocious 9 year old, to the point of the word ‘precocious’ being an understatement, almost to the point of it being ridiculous. Surprisingly, I didn’t have too much of an issue with this. I thought that the author did a very good job of displaying that, while Oskar was very much ahead of his age in many different ways, he was also simply a child with his selfishness, with his confusion, and with the simple ways he would view things.
I think I best loved reading from Thomas’s POV. I loved how interesting his character was, and how he lost all of his words until he could no longer speak, and how he fell in love with a girl who died and could never forget her, so he married her sister (<- highlight for spoiler). I loved learning about his past and where he came from, and all of his pain and confusion and his reasons for running away and trying to live. I loved being able to read his letters, and I hurt so much when I read his retelling of the Dresden bombings.
I thought this plot had an interesting premise, but for me, while it had its moments, it would (more often than not) fall flat. I found that with such a busy novel, it was so easy for the different storylines and subplots, or for Oskar’s different hobbies, to detract from his main mission, which was to find the lock that matched his father’s key. To be completely honest, I almost stopped caring about the progress of his mission- I just wanted to know what the key opened, so that he could find some closure.
I would have liked to move on from this book with a greater sense of closure- especially for Oskar’s mom. I worried for her a lot throughout this book. I also wanted to be able to receive more closure for Oskar and Thomas (it hurt me that Oskar still hadn’t realized he had been with his grandfather the entire time by the end of the novel), and for Oskar’s grandmother and Thomas. I don’t know if I like the way that this book ended in terms of Oskar’s grandmother and Thomas (<- highlight over blank space for spoilers). I just thought that this book had too many threads that were left as loose ends by its ending.
Overall, when looking at the technical aspects of this book, and forcing myself to consider it as an entirety rather than the parts that personally moved me, I gave Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close a 3.5/5 stars. Ultimately, it wasn’t easy for me to write a review about this book, or to rate it, or to even make my mind up about it. As I said myself in my review on Goodreads immediately after reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,
How do I make up my mind about a book that could frustrate me and confuse me and sometimes even annoy me, but could also hurt me and provoke thought and bring tears to my eyes (when I’m a person who rarely cries)?