Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Though my preferred reading is traditional fantasy and classic novels, I will read what I deem an "experimental" novel from time to time.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one such novel. I call it experimental because this is not really written in traditional form. There are lots of photographs, bad grammar and punctuation, and even blank pages. There are two timelines in the book, and not until near the end do you realize that they will even intersect. And, though it's about a boy whose father died in one of the towers on 9/11, that part of the plot is not preachy or overdone.
In fact, it's hardly confronted outright, which I kind of found strange.


Nine year old Oskar Schell is an only child who lives in New York City with his mother. His grandmother lives across the street. He is a Stephen Hawking fanatic, a vegan, an inventor, and many other things besides. He likes words such as extremely and incredibly; thus the title. He is very particular about everything. Doesn't sound much like a child, I'll admit, but in hindsight I think he's meant to have Asperger's. (It's never touched on, but his thought processes show it.) He is an atheist, because his father was one. He is only allowed to watch approved documentaries.
And he misses his father very much.
It's been two years since the attack, and Oskar is still grieving heavily. When he is exploring his father's closet, he accidentally knocks down a blue vase and it shatters, revealing an envelope that says "Black" in red pen and contains an odd looking key. Oskar feels very strongly that this is part of a scavenger hunt that he never finished, and hoping to find some truth about his father, Oskar sets out to find what the key fits.
He goes to the locksmith.
He goes to the craft store, because why would his father write "Black" with a red pen?
He visits almost everyone in the phone book with the surname Black.

In the meantime, Oskar's narrative is interrupted by narrative by someone who survived the bombing in Dresden almost a century ago. I don't want to reveal anything more about this narrator because it becomes extremely important later on.

What else am I supposed to tell you without giving away the (not very strong) plot?
Nothing, I guess.


Does my meager summary make sense?
I suppose it wouldn't necessarily make sense to me if I were reading it and hadn't read the book yet.
But it's a better summary than what the book blurb says.
Maybe this is supposed to be a novel of healing and hope and acceptance of death in the face of life which may not seem worth living sometimes.
And while I felt some of that healing and hope at times, for the most part the novel was rather devoid of hope.
Oskar is an atheist, which means he doesn't believe in an afterlife and he also believes that life is all random chance and that maybe there isn't a point to anything.
How does a novel like this, with no proper ending, point to hope????
Some people said they cried so hard while reading this.
I didn't.
In a way, I think perhaps the whole 9/11 aftermath was a gimmick.
In a way, I think the real story is about this key that Oskar finds.
And even about the other narrator who I still won't name, and how he fits in with Oskar's life.
This book should be labeled as a mystery of sorts, because that's a lot of what it is.


Don't get me wrong.
I liked this book a lot.
Enough that I'm not annoyed that I bought a copy before reading.
I just didn't love it.
When you're trying to write a novel that supposedly deals with grief and hope, maybe you shouldn't talk about atheism and evolution and random chance so much.
There's no hope in that.
I don't care what you think, Jonathan Safran Foer; your book isn't necessarily about hope.

As far as the experimental storytelling goes, it was excellent.
I think it's fun to experiment with typography while telling a story, because it makes the reading experience that much more interesting.
Read it for yourself; maybe you'll find something in it that I didn't.
If anything, I'll read it again in the future and see if it speaks to me in a different way.

So, three stars for this.
Also, I hope the movie version actually did the writing justice.