Monday, May 7, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close ~ Jonathan Safran Foer

I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to review Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  I loved it the whole time I listened to the audiobook and kept wanting to tell people how great it was.  I guess I'll just blame grad school.  It is wonderful though.  I remember the first day I started listening to it: I was driving to my field placement, and during that twenty minutes I moved repeatedly between hysterical laughter and near tears, and thought at least once that that probably wasn't very safe.  I carried on, however.

Oskar Schell is nine years old.  He lives in New York City, with just his mother, because his father died in 9/11.  He is incredibly precocious - both brilliant and very much a child, with a child's way of looking at things.  He's a near-vegan vegetarian, so you know that that tugged on my heart strings.  He's the kind of kid that you know would probably drive you at least a little crazy in real life, because he thinks he knows everything, but in the book he's just great - highly emotional (he has these great, kid-friendly way of expressing his emotions, e.g. he wears "heavy boots" when he's feeling sad), very intuitive, and with a penchant for hyperbole (just look at the title).

The story focuses mostly on Oskar, but also moves between both of his paternal grandparents, whose letters intersperse Oskar's own first-person narration.  It is quite emotional, particularly for an East Coast American (I didn't lose anybody in 9/11, but I could see a haze of smoke from my house).  I thought it was really interesting how Foer weaved stories of the bombings of both Dresden and Hiroshima into a story that grows out of 9/11; Americans tend to think that they are alone in this grief when in fact they are not.  War and loss are universal, which Foer demonstrates well.

I listened to this on audiobook, so a few comments on that: the reading was great.  The reader, Jeff Woodman, sounded like a kid without making it forced and never fell out of character.  He did a great job with intonation.  One example that really stood out to me was Oskar's tendency to follow a lot of his statements with "obviously" in a very precocious kid way, and Woodman delivered that perfectly.  His voicing of the grandfather was a little creepy, but so was the grandfather himself, so it worked.  He also did a good job of distinguishing between narration and dialogue, which can be a problem in audiobooks that are read in the first person (ahem Hunger Games).  It never occurred to me that I was missing out on anything by going with the audio version until I picked up a copy of the book in print and discovered that it has pictures.  Oskar takes pictures with his lost grandfather's old camera throughout the novel, describing each one, but it never occurred to me that there pictures were actually in the book.  I'm not sure how I feel about this, because I had no problem visualizing them, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to buy the book to find out.  Who am I kidding, I was going to buy it anyway!  This book was just too good to not have (and read) the "real" thing.

I think it's pretty obvious that I wholeheartedly recommend you read this.  I know some people take issue with it, so I welcome any comments that tell me I'm wrong (though I probably won't agree!).  I'm left with just one question - do I watch the movie and risk marring my memory of the novel?


  1. I've held off on seeing the film in order to read this book, which I picked up the same weekend the film was released. This is one of the only books on 9/11 that I am allowing myself to read because I cry quite a bit with stories, films, accounts, etc. I know I will cry for this book, too, but there's something about the uniqueness of the character, etc., that draws me to it and makes me want to read it.

  2. So glad the audiobook worked out! With all the pictures and some of the formatting I couldn't picture it really working as an audiobook but really, the point of the book isn't the structure, it's the story. And the story is so strong.

    Unfortunately I can't answer you about the movie. I haven't seen it but I heard sort of mixed things about it.