Guest Blogger Austin Vitelli – a review of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Foer

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.

from GoodreadsExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer
Rating: 5/5

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.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close movie
The Movie

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.

Austin Vitelli
Austin Vitelli

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.

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany's book cover
Breakfast at Tiffany’s

by
Truman Capote

Rating:

It’s impossible not to think about Audrey Hepburn when you meet the real Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote. It’s been awhile since I watched the movie, which stars Hepburn, George Peppard and Patricia Neal. George Axelrod wrote the screenplay and the movie was directed by Blake Edwards. It’s so easy to picture Hepburn in that apartment, to hear her voice and remember her sophisticated clothes. Oh to be able to carry yourself like that…

But after a few pages, despite an accurate dialogue, I realized that Capote’s Holly is a much different and younger character and that the movie glosses over some things, embellishes others, adds a plot line and changes the ending! I’ve always remembered loving the movie, but the book is much better.

This novella, a little over one hundred pages, is really a character sketch of Holly. The narrator is Holly’s neighbor, unnamed in the book, a writer who befriends her and a few years later, tries to guess what has become of her.

And she is a girl, nineteen years old, a run-away from a sad past, who makes her money entertaining men. And she makes more money on the side visiting a Mafia boss in prison and delivering coded messages that help run a drug cartel.

I remember the movie being rather light and romantic and thinking that Holly has it all together, despite her crazy life. Her source of income is barely explained in the movie, and although Holly jokes in the book about being paid for her “trips to the powder room,” there’s a deeper sadness in her and a roughness just below the surface that makes a much more complex character.

The narrator has a platonic relationship with Holly and Capote raises the question of all the characters’ sexuality throughout the story. Other characters remind me a little bit of aimless members of an earlier lost generation: Mag Wildwood, Rusty Trawler, and José Jbarra-Jaegar are examples of people who come into Holly’s life, become seemingly entrenched, and then disappear.

The themes of ownership, belonging and loss also run through the story. People connect and disconnect and Holly seems to not care, but suffers the most. She copes by developing superficial relationships and laying down shallow roots. Holly’s empty apartment and an unnamed cat are good examples of a life that is only semi-permanent. And when Doc Golightly shows up, she tries to explain away her childhood marriage and what their relationship means. “Doc really loves me, you know. And I love him. He may have looked old and tacky to you. But you don’t know the sweetness of him, the confidence he can give to birds and brats and fragile things like that. Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.”

Everything changes when Holly learns about her brother, Fred, and we realize that Fred is the one person Holly has been clinging to the most. And when her business arrangement with Sally Tomato at Sing Sing falls apart, Capote leaves us wondering what Holly will do, or what will happen to her.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I’ll keep the ending out of my review. But I do think the different ending in the book is much better, and truer to Holly’s character.

On a minor note, I was glad to see that Mr. Yunioshi, Holly’s Japanese neighbor, is not the crazy and inappropriate character portrayed by Mickey Rooney in the movie, a definite cringe-worthy moment. Rooney once insisted that his portrayal received positive reviews, including Chinese and Japanese fans who told him he was hilarious. But he later admitted his shame and regret in his autobiography, Life Is Too Short. There are also moments in the book, however, that reveal the racial prejudices of the times, something that jumps out when you read fiction from an earlier time.

For the record, Truman Capote was not happy with the movie version. He wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly, and was dissatisfied with all aspects of the film. After the film was released, Capote commented, “Holly Golightly was real-a tough character, not an Audrey Hepburn type at all. The film became a mawkish valentine to New York City and Holly, and, as a result, was thin and pretty, whereas it should have been rich and ugly. It bore as much resemblance to my work as the Rockettes do to Ulanova.” Check out this article on tcm.com.

These links provide more information about the book and the movie:

moviefone.com article

Wikipedia

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