Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
December 2, 2016 § 2 Comments
First published in the English in 2005
I have this very odd tendency of bringing onto the plane some very thick books to read. I think about the 10-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland, and I imagine myself buried nose-deep in a thick book that I’ll finish by the time the plane hits the ground again. It’s never gone that way before, and yet this time, I still find myself carrying extra weight in my backpack as I board the plane.
Still, I had many thick books to choose from, all of them sitting on my shelves. I decided to go with this one about a week before I left because it was screaming at me. Extremely loudly.
The only thing I knew about this book was that it was set in a post-9/11 New York. I didn’t know that it came in the form of a child’s narrative. If I had known, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. I don’t usually do well with young narrators, so I was quite apprehensive about it. After all, I was stranded in a metal bird in mid-air, with no other book to read.
I was, I’m glad to say, pleasantly surprised.
The narrative was, though a little choppy at times, simple enough to follow and understand. I wouldn’t exactly describe Oskar, the nine-year-old narrator, as a particularly gullible or naive boy, so that part worked for me. It seemed to be as somewhat believable that he was forced to grow up, to face his demons, after the 9/11 incident in which his father died. And if that’s why he ended up sounding a little too mature at times, I could buy into it.
The way the story was told, with one-sentence pages and full-page photos, was also a welcome break to the usual steady beat and pacing of a book. I think those worked well in this case, giving me some space in between the narrative.
At the same time, the in-between spaces felt necessary. It was like if they weren’t there, I would have zoned out of the text, of the narrative. And that’s where I felt the book sort of fell a little bit apart.
It was interesting enough for me to finish the book, and in good time, too. But it didn’t really “move” me, or reach me in a place I want books to reach. There’s a kind of touch that some books and stories have that just get you, and this book didn’t have that.
It was maybe just a little loud, and a little close. Not quite enough.