Monday, July 31, 2006

Post 9/11 Books Part 2 / Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

I just finished reading this book, published in 2005. It deserves a second read, so I may update this post at some point, but my first reaction is to marvel at the accomplishment of this novel. The author, Jonathan Safran Foer, weaves together three broken lives in engrossing detail, giving each character specific idiosyncracies that are both maddening and heartbreaking. The star of the show is Oskar Schell, an overly precocious, near-obsessive-compulsive eight-year-old whose father is killed on 9/11. His grandmother and grandfather also narrate portions of the novel, and their grief at losing their son, as well as their shared grief from living through the Dresden firebombing of World War II, is expressed powerfully in those chapters. But Oskar's grief and pain, together with his multifaceted attempts to put the pieces of his life back together, drive the story forward. The story centers around Oskar's quest to find a lock that fits a key he has found in secret, which he believes will tell him more about his father. The quest takes him to many places in New York, but the story doesn't dwell on the "I love NY" theme, it only uses New York as a patchwork background that adds interest in a primarily internal struggle. Oskar's quest is successful in many ways, although the key does not lead him in a direction that he expects; he makes friends, he meets people. Still, he is haunted by his father's death, and his grief is being worked out in the search for the lock. The grandfather character is another key in the story, and his presence becomes essential to Oskar working out his grief, though it is possible that in the end, neither of them achieves the emotional release they need. One very definite theme of the novel is to express the grief created by 9/11 and place it in both a personal and a historical context. The author achieves that goal while at the same time being bold and adventurous in the design and verbal inventiveness of the book. Foer is Vonnegut's heir in more ways than one here, and he is up to the challenge of taking Vonnegut's mantle on into the future.
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