A Post-9/11 Journey: Jonathan Safran Foerâ€™s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Growing up, I would often hear my mom recount the story of where she was when she heard that JFK was shot (she was walking around her high-school campus). I never understood why that moment was so etched in her memory until I saw the TV report of the Twin Towers falling on September 11th (I was settling in to my senior year of college). Events of these magnitude leave such an indelible mark on our psyche, and as cliché as the question might sound, we can’t help but ask, "Where were you when…?" In his remarkable novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer explores one brave child’s experience of this tragedy and his resulting incredible journey.
It's a brave thing to write about something so life-shaking and raw as 9/11 and I'd only read one novel before that broached the subject (Jay McInerney’s extraordinarily moving The Good Life). But when a friend suggested I pick up Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (despite the movie previews, which, truth be told, didn't seem too appealing to me), I began reading it.
If you’ve seen the previews then you know that the novel is about a young boy dealing with his father's death in the World Trade Center. But what you don't get is that beyond Safran Foer’s hauntingly beautiful descriptions and clever word gimmicks, the story is a simple one: It's about the love we have for someone who has gone missing and the journey we take to get back to them.
Safran Foer’s protagonist is Oskar Schell, a precocious nine-year-old, who is, among many things (or so his business card states), an Inventor, Jewelry Designer, amateur Entomologist, Francophile, and Vegan. But of all these things, Oskar is a loving, if not slightly peculiar, son. And when he discovers a key hidden within a blue vase in his father’s closet, so begins a two-year journey that will take him through all five New York City boroughs and to the doorsteps of some of the most fascinating characters you’re likely to ever come across. Often alone and mostly on foot (a result of his post-9/11 fear of public transportation), Oskar sets out in search of finding both the lock and some answers to how exactly his father died on that day.
At times bizarre, laugh-out-loud funny, and heartbreaking, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close manages to avoid being overly sentimental or sappy while still doing right by a really tough subject. It is so uniquely crafted and filled with such tender, honest moments between a father and a son that I’m envious of those of you out there who have yet to pick it up and begin reading.