By now, you’ve likely seen commercials for the film adaptation of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” (It’s up for a Best Picture Academy Award on Sunday.) Tom Hanks is the dad; Sandra Bullock is the mom. But I’m a firm believer in reading the book first.
In the novel, nine-year-old Oskar Schell loses his father in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. He finds a key inside a blue vase in his father’s closet, and begins a journey around New York City to find the matching lock.
Oskar is a compelling protagonist (and narrator) because of the way he sees things. The novel is written almost as one continuous thought as he rambles through life. He’s very smart (very smart), but has struggles socially. He makes friends with a few unlikely people along his journey, and he also returns often to his friendship with his grandma.
Which is where the secondary plot comes in — part of the book is the back story of how his grandparents met and married and lived together, before his grandpa left. Where it weaves back and forth between the two narrators and two stories, “Extremely Loud” can get confusing.
It took me a while to get into the book and adjust to Oskar’s manner of storytelling. But then the author hits you with a particularly poignant passage — and I mean hits you like a fist. Using a child’s perspective to understand Sept. 11 and also the loss of a parent makes the book extremely emotional in places. He’s angry at his mom for not being home when the school released him on Sept. 11; he’s upset by her budding friendship with a 9/11 widower.
In the end, the book is definitely something I’d recommend. It does take a while to adjust to Safran Foer’s writing style (I’m curious as to whether all of his books are written this way, actually) — but it’s worth the commitment.