Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
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625 of 675 people found the following review helpful
Extremely Loud is one of those novels that more than most will live or die on a particular reader's personal taste. Some will find it's twinned tales of a 9-year-old's grief over his father's death on 9/11 and his grandparents' tale of woe (centering on the Dresden firebombing) incredibly moving. Others will find it typographical and textual experiments wildly stimulating (blank pages, color plates, pages of nothing but numbers, photos, etc.). And some will have no trouble suspending disbelief with regard to Oskar's incredible precociousness or the fairy-tale quality of the New York City he moves in. Others, though, will find the book sentimental rather than emotional, cloying rather than powerful. The experimentation will be gimmicky distractions that mar rather than enhance the story. And the narrator's various quirks and gifts (his tambourine play, his vocabulary, his inventions and lists of aphorisms) not only unbelievable but almost unreadable. The lucky thing is it won't take you long to figure out which reader you're going to be. If the former, you'll settle in for an enjoyable ride. If the latter, it will be a long argument with yourself over just where you'll finally give in and quit reading.

Unfortunately, I fell into the latter category. It's rare that I come across a book that can have so much good writing in it that also makes me regularly want to hurl it across the room while I claw out my eyes. In the end, ELIC was a story ruined by talent, though I couldn't decide if it was insecure talent (propping up his story with gimmicks) or self-indulgent talent (throwing in everything and anything just cause he could).

As mentioned, the story centers on young Oskar, whose father left him several phone messages before being killed on 9/11. One day Oskar finds an envelope marked "Black" with a strange key in it up in his father's closet (in typical fashion, not a normal closet but a closet with a whole host of quirky associations). Deciding "Black" is a name, Oskar then goes off on a quest to find what the key opens, attempting to interview all the Black's of NYC. Interspersed between Oskar's movements are letter written by his grandparents concerning their history, which includes the firebombing of Dresden.

Oskar's story can be moving; there are some wonderful and truly brilliant passages. But for me it was marred by both his precociousness and his preciousness. One without the other would have perhaps been simply annoying, but both together made it almost unbearable. Toss in a consistent sense of arbitrary quirkiness and the book often left a bad taste in my mouth. Oskar for instance decides to interview the Black's alphabetically rather than by geographic proximity. Why? It serves the story's purpose. When seeking clues, a storeperson tells him it's interesting his father wrote "Black" in a red pen as that's so hard to do, write the name of a color in a different color ink. Really? Has anyone ever truly had to struggle to write the name of any color when using the trusty blue or black pen? Of course not. But this sounds quirky and mysterious. And so it goes.

The grandparents' sections also have their moments of true brilliance, but are also marred by problems of credibility with regard to voice and, again, quirkiness (such as designating parts of their apartment "nothing" areas), along with typographical stunts that from my view seldom enhanced the story.

ELIC therefore was extremely frustrating rather than loud, with the sense that one could have pulled out various lines/passages and put together a truly beautiful novella, but instead the reader got this. Is there talent here? Absolutely. Can you find places that will move you or make you laugh or make you marvel at the language? Absolutely. Is it worth it for those moments? From my perspective, absolutely not. But there is so much good here that I wouldn't recommend against trying it. I'd say give the book 30 pages (that's really all you'll need). If you can stomach Oskar's voice and mannerisms, you'll probably end up enjoying the book. If you find yourself cringing, save yourself. Put the book down and slowly back away. Don't strain to continue; you'll only pull something.
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624 of 685 people found the following review helpful
Sometimes an author has a theme running through all of his writing -- in the case of Jonathan Safran Foer, it seems to be a quest of the soul. His follow-up to the cult hit "Everything Is Illuminated" is the poignant, quirky, tender "Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close," which takes readers back to the rubble of ground zero.

Oskar Schell is a precocious preteen, who has been left depressed and traumatized. His father died in the September 11 attacks, leaving behind a mysterious key in an envelope with the word "Black" on it. So with the loyalty and passion that only a kid can muster, he begins to explore New York in search of that lock.

As Oskar explores Manhatten, Foer also reaches throughout history to other horrific attacks that shattered people's lives, including his traumatized grandparents. Though the book is sprinkled with letters and stories from before Oskar's time, the boy's quest is the center of the book. And when he finally finds where the key belongs, he will find out a little something about human nature as well...

Historically, only a short time has passed since 9/11, and in some ways "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" reopens the wounds. It reminds me of all the families who lost fathers, mothers and children. But Foer doesn't use cheap sentimentalism to draw in his readers, nor does he exploit the losses of September 11th families. It takes guts to write a book like this, and skill to do it well.

In some ways, this book is much like Foer's first novel, but he deftly avoids retreading old ground -- the "quest" is vastly different, the young protagonist is very different, and the conflicts and loss are different, though no less hard-hitting. Foer also sticks to that wonderfully oddballish prose, which gives a gloss of lightness to a deep plot.

After all, that is what made his first book so appealing -- there are parts of "Extremely" that are laugh-out-loud funny, and quirky characters worthy of a Wes Anderson movie. For example, one scene has Oskar sending a letter to Stephen Hawking, asking, "Can I please be your protégé?"

Child genius Oskar will probably make you want to either smack or hug him -- I tended more towards hugs. That's because Foer doesn't make Oskar seem like a tiny adult -- he's brilliant, but his mind still has the whimsy of a child's mind. His little "inventions" are just the sort of thing you'd expect an imaginative nine-year-old to create, and his quest is a realistic one, considering the tragedy he had suffered.

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" proves that Jonathan Safran Foer was no one-hit wonder. His enchanting second book tackles a great tragedy with warmth, depth and sensitivity. Outstanding.
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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
My husband found this book to be brilliant after reading the paperback edition. Since I had just purchased my Kindle, I wanted to read it on my Kindle. Unfortunately, due to a large number of illustrations in the book, this is not a good read for a Kindle. I was very happy to be able to look up pages on the paperback to be sure of what I was seeing. The Kindle graphics are not quite up to this book yet. I think I lost a lot of the enjoyment of the book due to this fact.
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412 of 492 people found the following review helpful
I just finished reading this wonderful book, and I really can't describe all the feelings swirling inside of me. This is more than a book with a story, it is an experience.

When I write my reviews I never describe the plot of the book, because Amazon does it very well, and of course other people do it in their reviews....so no need.

Well, even if I wanted to describe this book I couldn't. So again, I will just tell you why I loved it.

Mr. Foer is a wonderful writer. I had not read his first book yet, although I will do that now, but something in the description of this book caught my eye, so I tried it.

I laughed and cried and even when I was laughing, I was profoundly sad. I loved the characters and their flaws, their fears, their stories, their realistic humanity even among such unrealistic situations. I just can't describe how much I loved this book or why, but it has been put on my shelf of favorite books, to be read and reread, or experienced and experienced again. Again, it made me so sad and yet, when I was done, the sadness was mixed with such wonder and even hope. Mr. Foer, you are a marvel, to the readers, don't miss this one.
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51 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2011
I read this book on the kindle edition, and likely will return it because the formatting made some places impossible to read.

That aside, this is an incredibly bad book from a writer who certainly should be capable of much more. A book friend whom I talked to about had much the same response: "Self-indulgent drivel from a writer with the potential to be brilliant."

That's putting it very kindly, in my opinion. This is the literary equivalent of creating a meal from the scraps and crud collected by the strainer in your kitchen sink. The scraps may be actually rather colorful and even appetizing in another life, but are just plain rancid and stomach-turning here. I left the book at the point where grandpa narrates several pages that are nothing but keypad numerical keystrokes on a phone. I'm not kidding; this goes on for several pages.

One review of this book compared the author to Kurt Vonnegut. I somewhat understand the comparison, because Vonnegut had a talent for juxtaposing random, off-the-wall images and ideas for deliberate absurd effect. Jonathan Foer would be well advised to actually study Vonnegut, though, as he might then learn some discipline and actual story-telling strategies. This book is a collection of finger exercises done mostly to show off the author's skill. It's not a coherent work of art. Rather fun in limited doses, but ultimately lacking in meaning and satisfaction.

A disturbing number of talented young writers have the same disease: a considerable amount of linguistic muscle, with almost no craft. I think of it as the Bret Easton Ellis disease. This book bears the same relationship to good fiction as guilty self-abuse has to love-making.

If Foer is still around in 20 years, I might read him again, as perhaps mere time will mature him into a genuine talent. There certainly are some seeds here that could be cultivated; this book, however, is a bit of an embarrassment.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2005
Oskar Schell, as has been said elsewhere, owes his existence to the literary tradition within which falls the iconic Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn. Oskar's in good company and shows off the quirky vocabulary and emotional makeup of the uniquely sensitive genius-child who immediately launches an assault on our sentiments. His fabulously attentive, brilliant, and loving father, as we immediately learn, has been destroyed by utter hatred in one of the Twin Towers, and Oskar is suddenly profoundly alone, having to come to terms, as they say, with this completely irrational and unfair and sad and rage-inducing event. Within the confines of this novel, Oskar seemingly lives emotionally removed from his mother as he goes about the business of trying to connect to his father. He has hoarded away the last five telephone messages his father made to their answering machine, and then finds a mysterious key in a blue vase in his father's closet. Oskar seeks out the lock within which this key will fit, with the hope that once he finds it, he will open a door to his father's life again and never have to endure his loss. He tries his best to find his way. He meets interesting people. He makes brilliant remarks. He cries. And it is very sad.

We learn about Oskar's grandma and grandpa and their suffering and pain. We learn about Oskar's mother and new male friend. And, we see photos upon which we can meditate: stars, an elephant's eye, the back of a man's head, hands with yes and no written on them, doors with keyholes, and, most gripping, the unbearable sequence of photos of the flight of one of the Twin Tower victims to the ground.

One can criticize this work on many levels: it's manipulative, exploitive, covertly sentimental, trite, and even trivial compared to the unbelievable devastation of that day. But such criticism is niggling. One must ask: What is the artist's response to the overwhelming horror of 9/11? How will the fiction writer create stories that engage the mind and the imagination and make us more whole and connected in the light of such polarizing hatred and the awful events that have spun off from it?

Jonathan Safran Foer has created a voice to find entrance into the damage, the sorrow, the loss, the devastation. But it's a voice that can speak of all loss, really, not just from that day, but from all wars, the Dresden bombing, Hiroshima, Iraq, Vietnam, the Holocaust. What is left? Memories. Pain. Rage. Tears. Attempts to go on. This is what we find in this work. It hurts. But through the pain it attempts a bit of healing. Thank Oskar for that.
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2005
Mostly About Nighttime

If you've ever met somebody you thought was charming and witty and discovered after awhile that their charisma was just a cover for some deep seated anxiety, you have a sense of what it feels like to read Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

The book is immediately engaging, letting you into the fascinating intellect of nine year old Oskar Schell, a naïve genius in the making, whose depth of knowledge and ability to reason are incredibly profound in some areas and charmingly lacking in others, which leads us to believe we are into something warm and fuzzy with a few dark lines underneath for dramatic effect. We have no sense that by the time it's over we will have been subjected to the horrific fire bombing of Dresden, the grisly tragedy of Hiroshima, not to mention the terror of 9/11.

We are given to understand that Oskar has become the bright, articulate child he is through his relationship with his father who engages in mental and verbal games with him and who teaches his son to think outside the box. Alas, his father perishes in 9/11 setting Oskar off on a mission to affirm the validity of his father's existence by trying to find the owner of a key he discovers in the bottom of a vase hidden at the top of his father's closet.

What ensues promises to be enchanting in that old Neil Simonesque mold where all the citizens of New York are quirky and appealing and more than willing to warm up given half a chance, a view bearing about as much resemblance to reality as an MGM musical from the forties. If 9/11 taught us anything about the nature of New Yorkers it's that they are brave, industrious, bright, smart and surprisingly cohesive. But Charming is not a word that leaps immediately to mind, and Foer's insistence on resorting to this weary conceit here telegraphs a certain kind of book. What we end up with is something disturbingly different.

Lying just below the quirky exterior of these characters is a nearly universal inability to cope with grief and loss, a masochistic tendency to wallow in the tragic upheavals of their lives, compelling them to cling to others with a smothering neediness that diminishes their potential and robs them of their ability to appreciate life. Oh, joy! We keep reading on hoping that Oskar's bright naivety will lead us out of this bleak morass but instead he gets sucked in.

It's not enough that Foer sends this tornado of despair ripping across the quaint village he has created; he has to bombard us as well with first hand accounts of two of the most horrific tragedies of the twentieth century. The allied fire bombing of Dresden, Germany was destruction and death on a level with Hiroshima, and then, lest we miss the point, he gives us Hiroshima, and finishes it off with the repetitive image of a man leaping to his death from the Twin Towers.

Ultimately what we get is an attempt on the part of a New Yorker, Jonathan Safran Foer, to write his way clear of his emotions about 9/11. Oskar Schell is a metaphor for his apparently charming and naïve life pre-9/11, and the grim characters and situations that assault us afterward tell us how he's feeling now. By the time we near the end we're hoping for a resolution that will show us he's found a way out of this gloominess but the ending is half-hearted and unconvincing, although the flip book he provides does tug at your heart.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is among the first of what promise to be a slue of books about 9/11 and its meaning and impact. It's as sort of a toe in the water, testing how readers will respond to the subject, and to that extent it's valuable because we can't give shape to our feelings unless we begin to explore them. But if you're looking for a neat compartment to stow your feelings about 9/11 into, you won't find it here. Jonathan Safran Foer is still processing. And if you want a charming book about a bright, naïve boy learning what it means to love and be loved, may I suggest the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. This book, unfortunately, ends up being mostly about the nighttime.
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41 of 50 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 31, 2007
I am an unabashed fan of Jonathan Safran Foer's previous novel, "Everything is Illuminated". It was my favorite book from 2002, and I have extolled the virtues of its author many time since then. But I must say that I am underwhelmed by his follow up, "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close". Scratch that, I'm downright disappointed by it. The premise is promising: a quirky adventure that nine year old Manhattanite Oskar Schell embarks on to find the lock that goes to a key his father left behind when he died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Considering that Oskar is a bonafide eccentric for such a young man (he has business cards that describe him as, among other things, an inventor, Francophile, pacifist and percussionist, and unironically state that he doesn't have a fax machine yet), this seems tailor made for Foer's talents: a tragic historical event, loss, family, and humor tied up in an idiosyncratic package for your reading delight. Unfortunately, this is not so. There are moments of brilliance in this novel, but they are mired in a treacly sentimentality that leaves you with a sour taste in you mouth. All of the characters speak in fortune-cookie soundbites that are overly simplistic for a man of Foer's talents and annoyingly lacking in subtlety. It's like getting beaten over the head repeatedly by a Care Bear. "You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness." "... Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all of the lives that I'm not living." "It's not a horrible world ... but it's filled with horrible people!" "I hope you never love anything as much as I love you." The cloying just won't stop! Yes, these lines have truth in them, and yes, their meaning is touching, but while one or two would have been acceptable the whole lot gives you a headache.

There are some nice qualities to this novel. Foer's talent for oddball characters has you meeting a man who lives in the Empire State Building, a man who hasn't left his apartment in twenty-four years after his wife died, and more. Oskar Schell is quite an interesting, brainy little kid to drive the narrative, and Foer makes the best of his quirks and childishness. Getting inside their heads keeps you involved in the story and makes things move faster. There are also photos illustrating the segments of Oskar's journey, making "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" a photographic odyssey as much as a work of fiction, and the two points serve each other well. I also appreciated the tender climax between Oskar and his mother, who turns out to be keeping a much closer eye on her son than it previously appeared. But these good facets can't overcome the annoyance of Foer's desperate tugs at your heartstrings, and the dissonance between the main plotline and the subplot involving the backstory of Oskar's grandparents doesn't help matters by jarring you back and forth (although it does lead to a nice moment at the end). I'm sure that many people will not be bothered by the schmaltz, so if you think you might be one of them then go ahead and try it. And if you're a fan of Nicole Krauss' books (such as "The History of Love") I would recommend Foer to you, but I would suggest "Everything is Illuminated" over this in a heartbeat.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2005
About half way through this book, my ever present stack of unread books beckoning me, I vowed to finish it only because I had paid full price for a hard back, a rarity for me. It occurred to me at that point that it used to be that in order to be taken seriously, literature had to be incredibly boring. Now it seemed that to be taken seriously, literature had to be incredibly weird. And this book was definately weird.

However, I managed to finish and now find myself very conflicted about it. If the point of literature is to make you think, to cause you to revisit the piece while sitting at a stop light or shopping for groceries, to cause you to examine your assumptions about what your life is, then this book works. I have, much to my own dismay, missed Oskar a bit since I finished the book -- Oskar is unabashedly himself and I wish I had more of that in me. My siblings and I have agreed to give one another our "favorite book of the year" for Christmas, and this one is in contention, although I can't explain why and can't imagine any one of them reading it.

Foer is the kind of writer that causes sensory overload so I won't read his other book right away because it wouldn't be fair to him. But I will eventually, and, knowing what I know now, I will save it for a time when I can reflect.

I have given this book 4 stars because I think for what it is, it is probably about as good as it gets. I have read many reviews on Amazon where people say, in effect, "I bought The DaVinci Code, but it had all this religious symbolism I didn't understand" which always annoys me. This is an odd book, and if you are up for that, it has a certain appeal that is hard to explain.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2011
While I liked the idea of the novel, I found Oskar (the nine year old protagonist) to be unrealistic and not very likable. The story of a little boy haunted by his father's death during the 9/11 attacks, and his quest to learn more about his dad via a mysterious key has potential. Extremely Loud fell flat because it does not feel genuine or realistic, but a little contrived and overdone. I really wanted to like this book, but the characters are so flimsy: what mother in her right mind would let a 9 year old wander around NYC alone? Oskar does not sound like a real child, its as if Foer forgot that his protagonist was only 9 and not 30. I also had a hard time with Foer's writing style: the dialogue is condensed into paragraphs and you have no idea who is talking half the time...very confusing and it took me out of the story at times.
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