By Jordan Kroll
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is the story of nine-year-old Oskar Schell’s mission to discover the lock that goes with a key belonging to his father who died in the World Trade Center on September 11. Written by acclaimed author Jonathan Safran Foer (“Everything is Illuminated”), this novel is able to capture the spirit of a child while maintaining the ability to make the reader ask questions about an event many of us try not to think about.
Oskar goes on a journey throughout New York City’s five boroughs on his impossible quest and doesn’t necessarily come out of the search with a greater understanding of his father, as he’d hoped. Like many stories in which the protagonist embarks on some sort of journey with a specific goal in mind, Foer ensures that Oskar gets more out of his exploration, rather than simply reaching the destination. While a cliché concept in and of itself, Foer’s ability to create a reliable narrator out of an over-educated nine-year-old “inventor” and include small, yet poignant details throughout the text elevates what could be a predictable story of love, loss, and self-discovery into something more.
Intertwined with Oskar’s narrative is the tale of his paternal grandparents. It begins with how they met in Germany before World War II and progresses to present-day so that this story converges with Oskar’s. Although the way the story jumps around could be confusing and abrupt for some, it’s generally easy to follow and acts as another device employed by Foer to ensure that his novel is more interesting than most.
Another unique method Foer uses to enhance this work is his inclusion of photographs, drawings, and different typefaces peppered throughout the book. Dubbed as a foray into “contemporary postmodernism,” these pictures provide readers with a deeper insight into the minds of the narrators. Often emotionally jarring, these pictures interrupt the text in a way that causes one to focus more on smaller details that may have been overlooked in the text itself. Some may consider Foer’s experimentation with imagery too gimmicky, but their presence doesn’t subtract from the overall story.
There are few well-done novels that revolve around September 11 because it is still “too soon” in many respects, but Foer is able to overcome that and create a sensitive and, at times, humorous account of how such a universal even affected one family so uniquely. Through likeable, distinct characters, a complex narrative, and interesting additions like pictures, Jonathan Safran Foer has guaranteed “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” a spot in the modern-day literary canon.