Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Jonathan Safran Foer. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

If you are familiar with Foer's first novel, Everything is Illuminated, you will recognize his unconventional use of narrative and chronology. As in his first novel, Extremely Loud deals with loss in both the present and the future. Oskar, the nine year old protagonist in this novel, is coming to terms with the death of his father in the World Trade Center attack of 9/11/2001. By accident he finds a key at the bottom of a vase in an envelope with the word "BLACK" on it. After determining that Black must be a last name, he sets out on the improbable quest of visiting every one in the phone book with the last name of Black to see if they can help him find the lock that fits the key.

Oskar's grandmother, Mrs. Schmidt, lives in the apartment building across the street and Oskar visits her daily and talks with her at all hours of the night using a baby monitor set as walkie-talkies. Oskar's grandfather, Thomas, left before Oskar's father (also Thomas) was born. Oskar's grandmother and Thomas, grew up as neighbors in Dresden, he was in love with her sister Anna, and were separated after the fire bombing at the end of WW II. Anna, pregnant with Thomas's child, did not survive the fire bombing. Thomas's intense grief led to the loss of his ability to speak and when he and Oskar's grandmother met again in New York after the war, he could only communicate by writing. The story of their marriage and their individual efforts to recover from trauma and loss of the fire bombing constitute a second plot line.

The two plots intersect as the novel draws to a close; both Thomas and Oskar find a certain amount of resolution and healing.

Foer's writing is imaginative and beautiful. This novel includes typographical effects and photographs to enrich the prose. It is funny and sad and a moving remembrance of the loss of life during the fire bombing of Dresden and the 9/11 attacks. As we continue to fight wars with excessive and tragic loss of civilian lives, a novel such as this one keeps us in mind of the sorrow and pain of each innocent death-- so many deaths; sorrow and pain beyond comprehension.

Burling Library 3rd Floor PS3606.O38 E97 2005

Everything is Illuminated
Burling Library 3rd Floor PS3606.O38 E84 2002

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