A History of Violence – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is an intense, difficult novel.  In different chapters, Jonathon Safran Foer describes war scenes from both Hiroshima, and Dresden, Germany (side note: the American bombing of Dresden was what inspired Vonnegut to write Slaughterhouse-Five) and also goes into disturbing detail about 9/11.

If you can get through that… the book is engaging, beautiful, and heartbreaking. I was first turned onto the book about a year ago when I finished The Instructions (also brilliant, check out my post about that book as well) and found many comparisons between the two.  It took me awhile, but I did finally snag a copy and read it.

I’ve read a lot of reviews that claim the book is sentimental and weepy and… well it is.  And given that it came rather quickly on the heels of 9/11, I can almost see where they’re coming from, but… Well, they’re fucking idiots (except you John Updike, I could never stay mad at you!).  Given the content, the novel is a bit sappy at times, but still an excellent glimpse into the mind of a grieving child.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Jonathon Safran Foer
368 Pages
Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt
April 4, 2005

In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, our protagonist is Oskar Schell.  He is nine years old, pretentious to the extreme, and just a little bit mad.  You see, his father died in the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001.

The story is told from primarily from Oskar’s perspective, but you also get letters written by his grandparents that will in the blanks and add some meat to the backstory of the family.  The book is also liberally coated with various images… a doorknob, hands, the back of someone’s head, someone jumping from the WTC before it collapses.  Like I said… intense.

Oskar is thoughtful and intelligent… much like Gurion Maccabee is in The Instructions.  Instead of revolution, however, Oskar is focused on his father.  A freak accident leads Oskar to find a key hidden in a blue vase on a high shelf inside his father’s closet and we follow Oskar around New York City as he tries to find the significance of the key in his father’s life.

So that key… the solution to the mystery is disappointing.  Not just for Oskar, but for the audience as well.  There are a lot of satisfactory answers as the story progresses, but the major one is an amazing letdown.  That said, it seems as if that’s the point.  The ordinary solution is necessary for Oskar to move on, but… it isn’t what you expect it to be.

I’ve had this post waiting int he wings for more than a week now and… I just don’t have much else to say about the book.  Oskar is a great character to me.  He’s got weird inventions (a birdseed shirt so people can fly away from falling buildings, a mattress that has arm space for someone to lie on their side and spoon comfortably, etc.) and Foer writes him in such a painfully sad way that you can’t help but get behind him, even when he’s being a complete jackass to one person or another.

Read this book.  Preferably as a physical book because the e-book really shows the limits of the technology (page numbers don’t add up, the images don’t all look perfectly aligned, and some of the pages are PDF\image scans and so you can’t use the handy definition look-up feature on them).  But definitely a recommended title.

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4 thoughts on “A History of Violence – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

    • Thansk for the comment and thanks for the link to your blog. Great information about The Books of Magic (I always assumed there were even more DC Comics references that I wasn’t understanding… glad to read about it).

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