Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
|Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close|
|Author||Jonathan Safran Foer|
|Cover artist||Jon Gray|
|Publication date||1 April 2005 (1st edition)|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||368 pp (hardback & paperback editions)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-618-32970-6 (hardback edition)
ISBN 0-618-71165-1 (paperback edition)
|Dewey Decimal||813/.6 22|
|LC Classification||PS3606.O38 E97 2005|
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. The book's narrator is a nine-year-old boy named Oskar Schell. In the story, Oskar discovers a key in a vase that belonged to his father that inspires him to search all around New York for information about the key.
The main protagonist of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a nine-year-old boy named Oskar Schell. Oskar Schell's father Thomas Schell dies in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, before the narrative begins. While looking through his father's closet, Oskar finds a key in a small envelope inside a vase; on the outside of the envelope the word "Black" is written in the top left corner. Curious, Oskar sets off on a mission to contact every person in New York City with the last name Black, in alphabetical order, in order to find the lock to the key his father left behind. The novel also has a separate narrative that eventually converges with the main story through a series of letters written by Oskar's grandfather to Oskar's father and by Oskar's grandmother to Oskar himself, based on real life events.
One of the first people Oskar meets in his search for the key's origin is a forty-eight-year-old woman named Abby Black. Oskar makes friends instantly, but she has no information on the key. Oskar continues to search the city, meeting an old man he calls "the renter" – as he is the new tenant in Oskar's grandmother's apartment; "the renter" is actually Oskar's grandfather. Eight months after he meets Abby he finds a message on the answering machine. He had not touched that phone since his father died since his father's last words had been on an identical answering machine which Oskar had kept hidden from his mother. It is revealed that Abby had called Oskar directly after his visit, saying "[she] wasn't completely honest with [Oskar], and [she] think[s] that [she] might be able to help". Oskar returns to Abby's apartment, and Abby directs him to her ex-husband, William Black.
When Oskar talks to William Black, he learns that the vase used to belong to William's father. In his will, William's father left William a key to a safe-deposit box, but William had already sold the vase at the estate sale to Thomas Schell. Oskar tells William something that he "never told anyone" – the story of the last answering machine message Oskar received from his father, during the attack of 9/11- a repetition of the words "Are you there? Are you there? Are you there?" Oskar then gives William Black the key. Disappointed that the key does not belong to him, Oskar goes home angry and sad, not interested in the contents of the box. After Oskar destroys everything that had to do with the search for the lost key, his mother reveals that she knew Oskar was contacting all the Blacks in New York City. After the first few visits she called every Black that he would meet and informed them that Oskar was going to visit and why. In response, the people Oskar met knew ahead of time why he was coming and usually treated him in a friendly manner.
Oskar Schell, a self-proclaimed inventor, is the nine-year-old protagonist of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. His thoughts have a tendency to trail off into far-flung ideas, such as ambulances that alert passerby to the severity of their passengers' conditions and plantlike skyscrapers, and he has several assorted hobbies and collections. He is very trusting of strangers and makes friends easily, though he does not have many friends his own age.
Oskar's grandfather, Thomas Schell Sr. (also referred to as "the renter") is an important character in the story, even though he does not physically meet Oskar until the book's end. After the death of his first love, Anna, Oskar's grandfather loses his voice completely and consequently tattoos the words "yes" and "no" on his hands. He carries around a "daybook" where he writes phrases he cannot speak aloud. He marries Anna's younger sister, Oskar's grandmother.
Abby Black is William Black's ex-wife. She is forty-eight years old and lives by herself. She is friendly and welcoming to Oskar when he arrives at her house, though she does decline Oskar's offer of a kiss.
Thomas Schell, Oskar's father, dies before the events of the book begin. Oskar remembers him as caring, smelling of aftershave and always humming the song "I Am The Walrus" by The Beatles. Thomas Schell organizes several expeditions for Oskar, such as a game to find an object from every decade of the past century, and this is one of the reasons Oskar even begins his journey in the first place.
Oskar's mother, Linda Schell, referred to as "Mom" in the book, cares for her family very much. After Thomas's death, Oskar's mother tells Oskar "I won't fall in love again." Though it is implied that she knows Oskar is running around the city meeting strangers, she nevertheless allows him to do so in order to discover more about his father.
Oskar's grandmother is a kind woman who is very protective of Oskar. She calls out to him often, and Oskar always responds with "I'm okay" out of habit. When she arrives in America, she reads as many magazines as she can to integrate herself as best she could, and enters into a tumultuous marriage with Oskar's grandfather. The couple breaks up before the events of the novel.
Anna is Oskar's grandfather's first love. Oskar's grandfather falls in love with her instantly. She dies in the Dresden firebombings of World War II after telling Oskar's grandfather of her pregnancy.
Jonathan Safran Foer's inspiration for his main character came when having difficulty with another project. In an interview, Foer stated, "I was working on another story and I just started to feel the drag of it. And so, as a side project, I got interested in the voice of this kid. I thought maybe it could be a story; maybe it would be nothing. I found myself spending more and more time on it and wanting to work on that". On the challenges of writing a novel in a child's voice, Foer responded, "It's not the voice of a child exactly," adding that "in order to create this thing that feels most real, it's usually not by actually giving the most accurate presentation of it."
Foer was sleeping off jet lag after returning to New York City from a trip to Spain, when he was woken by a phone call from a friend: "He said, 'You have to turn on the TV, a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.' And then he said, 'I think it's going to be a very strange day,'" said Foer. In another interview, Foer said, "I think it's a greater risk not to write about [9/11]. If you're in my position—a New Yorker who felt the event very deeply and a writer who wants to write about things he feels deeply about—I think it's risky to avoid what's right in front of you."
Major themes of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close include trauma, mourning, family, and the struggle between self-destruction and self-preservation. One literary journal provides an in-depth analysis of the specific types of trauma and recuperative measures that Oskar's grandmother and Oskar's grandfather go through after the Dresden firebombings, and that Oskar goes through after the loss of his father. The journal states that Oskar has a simultaneous death wish and extreme need for self-preservation: this theme is echoed in Thomas Schell Sr.'s pronounced survivor guilt and Oskar's grandmother's well-disguised inability to cope with her trauma. It also states that though Oskar's journey to "find" his father does not help him get over his traumatic experience, it does allow him to grow closer to his mother.
Critical response towards Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has been generally less positive than for Foer's first novel, Everything Is Illuminated; John Updike, writing for The New Yorker, found the second novel to be "thinner, overextended, and sentimentally watery," stating that "the book's hyperactive visual surface covers up a certain hollow monotony in its verbal drama." In a New York Times review Michiko Kakutani said, "While it contains moments of shattering emotion and stunning virtuosity that attest to Mr. Foer's myriad gifts as a writer, the novel as a whole feels simultaneously contrived and improvisatory, schematic and haphazard." Kakutani also stated the book was "cloying" and identified the unsympathetic main character as a major issue. Anis Shivani said similarly in a Huffington Post article entitled "The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers," claiming Foer "Rode the 9/11-novel gravy train with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, giving us a nine-year-old with the brain of a twenty-eight-year-old Jonathan Safran Foer."
Despite several unfavorable reviews, the novel was viewed positively by several critics. The Spectator stated that "Safran Foer is describing a suffering that spreads across continents and generations" and that the "book is a heartbreaker: tragic, funny, intensely moving". "Foer's excellent second novel vibrates with the details of a current tragedy but successfully explores the universal questions that trauma brings on its floodtide," wrote Rebecca Miller of Library Journal. "It's hard to believe that such an inherently sad story could be so entertaining, but Foer's writing lightens the load."
Awards and honors
- New York Public Library's "Books to Remember" list
- International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Shortlist (2007)
- The Morning News Tournament of Books (Quarterfinalist, 2006)
- New York Times Bestseller (Fiction, 2005)
- Libraires du Québec (Lauréat Roman hors Québéc, 2007)
- ALA Outstanding Books for the College Bound (Literature & Language Arts, 2009)
- ALA Notable Books for Adults (2006)
- Village Voice 25 Favorite Books (2005)
- V&A Illustration Award (2005)
A film adaptation of the novel was released on January 20, 2012. The script was written by Eric Roth, and Stephen Daldry directed. Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Viola Davis, Max von Sydow and Jeffrey Wright starred, alongside 2010 Jeopardy! Kids Week winner Thomas Horn, 12, as Oskar Schell. The film was produced by Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros.
- Foer, Jonathan Safran (2005). Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-618-71165-9.
- Foer, p. 237
- Foer, p. 288
- Foer, p. 301
- Foer, p. 237
- Foer, p. 325
- Shenk, Joshua Wolf. "Jonathan Safran Foer: living to tell the tale". Mother Jones 30 (3). Retrieved March 15, 2012. Unknown parameter
- Sien Uytterschout, Kristaan Versluys (May 15, 2008). "Melancholy and Mourning in Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close". Orbis Litterarum (Blackwell Publishing) 63 (3): 216–236. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0730.2008.00927.x. Retrieved March 15, 2012.
- Updike, John. "Mixed Messages" The New Yorker, March 14, 2005.
- Kakutani, Michiko. "A Boy's Epic Quest, Borough by Borough", The New York Times March 22, 2005.
- Shivani, Anis. "The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers." The Huffington Post August 7, 2010.
- Olivia Glazebrook, "Wearing heavy boots lightly", Spectator June 11, 2005.
- "Miller, Rebecca (March 1, 2005). "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.". Library Journal (Media Source, Inc.) 130 (4): 78. Retrieved March 15, 2012.
- Kit, Borys. "Stephen Daldry to direct 'Extremely Loud': Project based on a Sept. 11-themed novel", The Hollywood Reporter, April 1, 2010
- "Hanks and Bullock Getting Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close", ComingSoon.net, August 23, 2010
- Fleming, Mike. "'Jeopardy!' Wiz Kid Lands Lead in WB Movie", Deadline.com, December 15, 2010