Today’s Sunday Book Club Review is “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer.
I was a bit hesitant to review this particular book once I saw the date it would be posted, the 15 year anniversary of 9/11. ELIC centers around the aftermath of 9/11 from the fictional perspective of 9 year old Oskar Schell, who lost his father in the WTC attack. I didn’t want this post to come off as attention seeking, I didn’t intentionally choose to review a book about 9/11 on 9/11, but I think there’s something a bit…poetic, in that it just happened to occur this way. One of the themes of this book & a message I’ve been seeing passed around a lot today, is that life must go on. We must continue to find joy, entertainment, & happiness, despite the horrific tragedy of 9/11. With that, I proudly present my review on this amazingly well written & thought provoking story in the hopes that literature like this continues to be created so that we truly never forget this day.
Oskar Schell is not your average 9 year old. He doesn’t have much time for kids his own age, preferring to learn French or take photographs on his grandfather’s old camera. Many of these photographs can be seen throughout the book, almost like illustrations, an interesting addition in a Fiction novel. Oskar carries many heavy emotions as he struggles to cope with his father’s death in the World Trade Center on 9/11. One day while looking through his father’s things he finds a key in an envelope labeled “Black” & thus begins a quest to figure out his father’s final mystery. Along the way Oskar connects with many people struggling with the aftermath of 9/11 or their own personal tragedies, learns a lot about his family, & life in general. There is another plot line & narrator, but it’s hard to say too much without spoiling the twist. The other storyline centers around WWII Germany & not only explains some character’s backstories but shows a time where people experienced similar tragedy & terror like 9/11 & how history repeats itself. The use of this other storyline speaks to what I was saying above, the world will always know chaos. It’s up to the survivors to take that tragedy & create something beautiful from it that will make the world a better place.
Oskar Schell – I’m always anxious to read novels where the main character is a child because, to be frank, I don’t really enjoy children. However, I felt a kinship with Oskar in that, we both didn’t really connect with kids our own age, preferring relationships with our family or other adult mentors. Oskar is written in a clever but often naive way. There are a few plot lines, such as his mother’s “love life” after his father’s passing, where Oskar definitely shows a more standard child like attitude. However, at the end of the novel, the reader sees how Oskar has grown & his eyes are opened to another perspective he didn’t see clearly before. Again, not your typical child character, which I appreciated & was able to connect with.
Without giving too much away, I was a bit disappointed in the ending. Oskar’s journey to find something about his dad really led him on a journey to find himself & some peace, which is ultimately more important. However, as a person who lost their dad at a young age too, I understand Oskar’s frustration at that abstract concept. I can sympathize because I too wondered for many years, why was there not one last “I love you”, “goodbye”, or bit of grown up advice? The truth of that unfortunately, is that there is always one last something, we just never know it’s the last until it’s too late. I highly recommend this story, especially if you’ve ever struggled with grief or loss of any kind. ELIC made me laugh, cry, think – it made me feel! Obviously I wasn’t in NY on 9/11, but from my point of view this novel has its heart in the right place. I honestly believe Foer didn’t write this story for attention or to make money on a hot button topic. This is not a political story, the focus is on the people that lived & died on that day & how the survivors still struggled. It’s a noble effort to take an event that hit so close to home & explore it with a child-like sense of curiosity & naiveté & create something that can speak to a variety of people.
Have you read or heard of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”? What about the film? I’m interested to watch the film based on the book & see how it compares. Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!
The next Sunday Book Club is September 25th & the book is “Damned” by Chuck Palahniuk.