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Reading Buddies Wrap-Up: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer

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Hello, reading buddies! Welcome to the wrap-up for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Just a note, as usual, to non-participants: if you haven’t read this one yet, you might not want to read any farther, since spoilers are fair game!

I really loved this book. So much so that it’s a little hard for me to talk about it critically. There are three aspects I want to discuss, though, and of course I’d love to hear what most intrigued you as well.

First, as I mentioned in the discussion post, I thought the images and formatting throughout the book were extremely well done. It was like sometimes what I was holding was a novel, sometimes Oskar’s book of pictures, and sometimes Oskar’s grandfather’s blank book. Having three things juxtaposed like that should have confused me, but it didn’t once I figured out what was going on. The physical book became a record of the things that happened to Oskar and his grandparents, almost like a scrapbook with the storyline written into it. I thought all these apparent oddities added an incredibly rich and–pardon my pun–novel layer to the book.

I also thought, as many of you commented, that Foer’s handling of 9/11 was extremely adept. He took a very emotional, serious tragedy and made it personal while striking a fine balance between sorrow and hope and treating the entire thing in a respectful way. He also did so in a way that seems accessible for a wide spectrum of readers, which is rather impressive when you consider how different people’s experiences of tragedy can be.

Jenners posted a wonderful review in the form of a letter to the author, which discussed a related point. Here’s what she had to say:

“I think the fact that you used Oskar’s loss of his dad in the collapse of the Twin Towers and tied that to the losses that his grandparents experienced during the Dresden firebombing helped to make this book more about the nature of loss and grief than simply a ‘9/11 novel.’ People have been dying senselessly from acts of violence throughout the ages. It is catastrophic to the people left behind regardless of the scale of the violence or whether the violence was during a “sanctioned” war. Loss of all types eviscerates you and causes you to lose your way. By telling Oskar’s story and his grandparents stories concurrently, we come to feel and learn so much about the nature of loss, grief, regret and guilt of survivors. From Oskar’s search for the lock to his grandfather’s loss of words, I thought you made the desperation of grief tangible and vivid.”

This is part of why I love reading with other people. I didn’t even make the connection between the two tragedies. I love that different people pick up on different aspects of a book! I wonder if Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close works so well because it goes beyond 9/11, gives it something of a context. What do you think? Would it have worked as well had 9/11 been the sole focus?

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (cover)Finally, I’d like to talk about Oskar. Several of you voiced concerns that Oskar didn’t seem like a particularly realistic character. And I kind of agree with you. But also, I loved him, and I thought he worked incredibly well in the story. I pondered this difference for a while, and I came up with a theory, which is this: perhaps there’s a difference between real and realistic. Realistic, in this context, means believable, true-to-life, accurate, all of that. Which, no, maybe Oskar isn’t 100% realistic. But I do think he’s real. By that I mean as a character, he wasn’t flat or false. Foer did an amazing job creating this little protagonist, so that I felt I knew him. I lived his story with him, rooted for him, was touched by him, even if I can’t quite imagine him existing in real life. As a more extreme example of this idea would be really good fantasy. One of my favorite YA novels is Graceling by Kristin Cashore. It’s set in a made-up world, full of characters who have impossible skills and unnatural appearances, yet when I’m reading it, that world and its inhabitants are as real to me as my own living room. Clearly Oskar isn’t as fantastical as all that, but maybe if he’s considered through the lens of real instead of realistic as defined above, he’ll come out more favorably. Thoughts?

It’s time I stop! If I let myself get into any more, I’ll get carried away and this post will never end. I’m curious, though, about two more things:

  1. Did you have a favorite touching moment? (Mine is a tie between the Morse code jewelry and the end, when Oskar finds out his mom got to talk to his dad, and that she had been helping him in his search all along.)
  2. Did you have a favorite quote? (Mine’s on page 153, of my edition, from the Mr. Black who shouts everything: “So many people enter and leave your life! Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to keep the door open so they can come in! But it also means you have to let them go!”)

Other participants’ posts:

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  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    I am so glad that everyone loved this book! It was a favorite when I read it several years ago, and I think the mixed media worked out really well with the story. Though I do think Oskar was a little eccentric, I fully bought him as a character, though I can see that others may not have. This was a great wrap-up review. I can’t wait to see what you are reading next!

    • Erin

      Yes, I agree with you…Oskar was eccentric but still worked as a character. I can’t imagine anyone else narrating the novel! I started out wondering if all the mixed media would be too gimmicky, but it definitely wasn’t. It was all perfect!

  • http://www.armchairarchives.blogspot.com Marisa

    Thanks for this! I’ve only read Foer’s “Eating Animals”, which is a non-fictional account of how he came to care about issues linked to animal rights, but even in his non-fiction, Foer’s voice as a writer came through and made it an enjoyable read. I can’t wait to check out this novel and see how he shines a writer of fiction.

    • Erin

      Eating Animals is the only one I haven’t read of Foer’s, now! I’m very happy to hear his voice comes through there as well. Maybe if I get a craving for something by him, I’ll pick it up!

  • http://www.lifewithbooks.com Jenners

    I have very much enjoyed doing the Reading Buddies with you. It is so fun to share thoughts with others who are reading the same book at the same time.

    I too just loved Oskar, though I will grant that he probably wasn’t “realistic.” He was a great character and I thought his emotions felt true, and that counts for more than anything I think. I loved his approach to life; it was so unique and different and refreshing.

    As far as touching moments, learning how his mom has been helping him out the whole time was really touching. You feel throughout the book that she is distant and not understanding Oskar (because that is what Oskar thinks) but then you find out that she is doing everything she can to help him heal in the way that is true to his nature. I also got teary at the end with the “flip book” effect of the bodies going back up and being saved.

    The quote you shared was lovely and so fitting. Perfect choice.

    • Erin

      I enjoyed doing it with you, too, Jenners…even if I have been woefully terrible about replying to comments! I agree re: Oskar. The story wouldn’t have been the same without its quirky young protagonist, even if he might be just outside the realm of realistic. I loved finding out about how his mom had been helping him, too, especially because Oskar basically feels she doesn’t care. It also makes him seem more like a kid than maybe anything else in the book, and I think he realizes it, too — even though he’s out traipsing around the city by himself, he still has this cocoon of protection around him. The flip book-like final pages were the perfect way to end, weren’t they?

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  • http://www.readingonarainyday.com/ Aths

    I saw this one at the store today and nearly picked it up. Another time! This is the 2nd or 3rd time I’m hearing about this book within a week – so glad to read that it is good!

    • Erin

      Ooh it is so good! I hope you get to it eventually!

  • Anita

    I loved this one too!
    My favorite quote (from p. 245):
    “I thought about all of the things that everyone ever says to each other, and how everyone is going to die, whether it’s in a millisecond, or days, or months, or 76.5 years, if you were just born. Everything that’s born has to die, which means our lives are like skyscrapers. The smoke rises at different speeds, but they’re all on fire, and we’re all trapped.”

    • Erin

      I don’t think I noted that passage down, but I remember reading it. I think at the time it felt so depressing, but it’s also true. Reading it now out of context, it doesn’t seem so bad :-)