Book Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

>> 19 October 2009

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After thumbing through the pages of this book, I was almost certain that I was not going to like it. There were pages that contained a single sentence each. There were pictures of doorknobs and birds interspersed throughout. Lines of dialog were not granted their own lines, but were instead crammed together in jumbled masses of text. There were pages where words were printed over words, so that the entire page was unreadable. In short, it looked gimmicky, and I supposed that the gimmickry was the only thing the novel had to offer. Nevertheless, as the book came highly recommended, I decided to give it a shot.

And I'm glad I did. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It was gimmicky - there's no denying it - but it was also a wonderful story that walked the precarious line between hilarity and heartbreak. The gimmicks could have been completely cut and the novel would not have suffered one bit. Take away the pictures, punctuate like a normal author, and the book would have been every bit as good (maybe even better as it would have contained less distraction).

The main character, an eight-year-old boy named Oscar, is suffering from anxiety and depression following the attacks on the World Trade Center, which claimed his father's life. When he discovers a key in his dad's things, he sets out to find the lock that the key opens, assuming that this key is a part of one of the elaborate scavenger hunts that his father used to orchestrate. During his quest, he enlists the help of the strangers he encounters, who seem to see Oscar's quest as a chance for them to move past their own sorrows and regrets.

So, after basically gushing for three paragraphs, I'll get around to business. What do I like about this novel? Oscar is a great point-of-view character. It's easy for a book told from a child's perspective to become obnoxiously cute; this book escapes that danger. Oscar is intelligent and observant enough to be an interesting narrator. He notices the subtleties of the adult world but doesn't have the experience to make sense of them. This creates a tension that is reliably played on for laughs and for emotional weight.

The plot moves along quickly, and even though you always get the sense that Oscar isn't going to find what he's looking for - or rather, that the thing he finds isn't what he thinks it will be - there was enough going on to keep me flying through the pages.

What did I dislike about this book? Not a whole lot, but there were some things which I wasn't wild about. First, the 'gimmicks.' They didn't ruin the book or anything, but they just struck me as being too trendy for a book that was otherwise very good. Sort of like getting a Guns 'n' Roses tattoo - it might seem like a good idea at the time, but it will age quickly. There will be a time fairly soon (I imagine) when the odd type-setting, etc. will look very dated and out-of-place.

Also, there is a subplot (which I won't discuss to avoid spoilers) involving two individuals who survive the bombing of Dresden, Germany in World War II. While I am sure that the bombing was a horrific event for anyone who survived it, the characters' response struck me as rather over-the-top and melodramatic. It isn't completely unbelievable, but it was a bit of a strain.

Overall, I highly recommend this book.

View all my reviews >>

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Have you ever read this book?
  2. What is the funniest book you have ever read?
  3. What is the saddest?
  4. What is the longest book you've read?


kelley October 20, 2009 at 8:57 AM  

1. Yes- Loved it.
2. I Love You Beth Cooper. I hesitate to admit that. But I really did laugh out loud a lot, which is rare for me and books. Maybe I need more funny books to read.
3. Ethan Frome or The Jungle
4. Lord of the Rings, I know it's a trilogy but I still read it as one book. And it was really long.

mary October 22, 2009 at 7:34 PM  

1. No but now I want to. Thanks for the recommendation! :)
2. Not sure ... maybe either White Noise, or something by Kurt Vonnegut. I always laugh out loud at Vonnegut.
3. I don't know if it's really the saddest or not, but what I'm coming up with right now is Grapes of Wrath
4. Atlas Shrugged. Though I admit, I skimmed parts of "the speech"

Sadiya October 18, 2010 at 1:51 AM  

1- no i havnt...but i gues i will after readin the glowing review u have given

2- funniest would be 2 states by chetan bhagat

3- saddest- the orphans by virginia andrews and in the eyes of the sun by ahdelle souife (deeply disturbing i thought)

4- longest as i can recollect was the lost symbol by dan brown (dint like it though)

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