I’d like to welcome back my guest blogger, Austin Vitelli. Today, he has submitted a review of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a special novel, and one that immediately made its way into my top 10 books of all time. Its use of a child narrator and dealing with the aftereffects of 9/11 on his life produced a quite sad, but memorable story.
The story is about Oskar Schell, a 9-year-old boy who loses his father in 9/11 and now has to live with only his mother. A year later, he finds a key in a vase in his father’s room and believes finding what it opens will help him reach closure over his dad’s death. He goes on a search throughout New York City for everyone with the last name “Black”, which was written on the envelope in which Oskar found the key. The book chronicles his adventures and the people he meets, as well as the aftermath of living without his father, with whom he had a close relationship.
I personally loved the use of a child as the narrator, as I found it very effective in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. That book was written before Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and featured a child narrator who also had Asperger Syndrome and was also six years older, giving this book a different perspective at what it’s like to read a book through a child’s eyes. Oskar was certainly advanced for his age though, as it’s unlikely that a nine-year-old would be able to travel around NYC without hitting more than a few roadblocks.
Still, it’s fictional, and some things are worth looking past in order to enjoy the story to its fullest. Expecting everything to be completely real in a fiction book defeats the purpose—the author knows it’s fiction, not everything has to be 100% realistic.
The main plot is mixed in with letters written by multiple characters to Oskar, but most often by Oskar’s grandmother, who lives across the street and is very close to Oskar. Her letters add her background into the story and create an interesting subplot as she tells Oskar about his grandfather (the father of Oskar’s father), who neither Oskar nor his father met.
Hearing all the different stories about people that Oskar meets is one of the most interesting parts. He often has no filter on the questions he asks people and tells them random facts, things that nine-year-olds are expected to do, adding a level of credibility to the narrator. It automatically causes the reader to “cheer for” Oskar to find what he’s looking for as he explores the city.
Despite the interesting nature of the search, this book is incredibly sad. Oskar has phone messages that his father left on the answering machine at their house that he plays over and over to himself, but never tells anyone else about. He’s simultaneously trapping this terrible day (or “the worst day” as he calls it) in his memory, but protecting it from his mother as well. He has to deal with the fact that he was there when the last couple messages were left, and he didn’t pick up the phone. He never saw his father again. The emotion captured from this aspect of the novel is one of the driving forces of the overall story.
Shortly after finishing the book, I watched the movie to get a comparison. While I liked the movie, it just wasn’t the same and left out certain details that I thought were important parts of the book. For example, for part of Oskar’s search, he goes around with one Mr. A Black, one of the people he met on his search. In the movie, this doesn’t happen at all, and Black is essentially cut out of the movie entirely except for a few seconds in one scene. I know the movie can only be so long (it was just over two hours), but deleting this character completely seemed wrong.
Also, the actor who played Oskar was 14 years old at the release of the movie, which made it a lot harder to buy into the movie itself. The five year difference between a 9-year-old and a 14-year-old is too significant to brush aside and made it both more and less realistic. It was more realistic because it’s more likely that a 14-year-old could go on the search that Oskar did, but less realistic because he was still supposed to be a 9-year-old in the movie.
One thing I found interesting after doing some reading was that in the movie, Oskar was intentionally supposed to appear as if he were somewhere on the autism spectrum. Foer said he didn’t intend for Oskar to be Autistic in the novel, but I couldn’t help seeing similarities between his character and Christopher, the narrator in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
Overall though, I thought Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks did a great job representing Oskar’s parents, and the story itself was played out well. The ending was a bit different than in the book though—it was more of a “movie” ending if that makes sense. If not, I’ll let you read the book and watch the movie to see for yourself.
Many thanks to Austin for writing this terrific review! Austin loves to read and he is an aspiring sports writer. To find out more about him, be sure to visit Austin’s website at austinvitelli.com.
My name is Austin Vitelli and I am a junior at Lehigh University. I am a Rodale Scholar and plan to major in Journalism with a minor in Economics. I graduated from Downingtown East High School. I am currently a writer and the sports editor for Lehigh’s student-run newspaper, The Brown and White. I also manage the Brown and White Sports Twitter account.
Thanks for visiting – come back soon!