Title: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
ISBN: 9781419328794
Pages: 326 pages
Discs/Cds: 10 CDs,11 hours
Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, c2005.

Sometimes I think it would be weird if there were a skyscraper that moved up and down while its elevator stayed in place. So if you wanted to go to the ninety-fifth floor, you’d just press the 95 button and the ninety-fifth floor would come to you. Also, that could be extremely useful, because if you’re on the ninety-fifth floor, and a plane hits below you, the building could take you to the ground, and everyone could be safe […] (3)

Nine-year-old Oscar lost his dad in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11th. When he came home that day, he found several messages from his father that he has since hidden from everyone, including his mother. He’s also hiding from his mother a key that he found hidden in the apartment. The only clue as to what lock the key opens is the word “Black” scribbled on the envelope, which prompts Oscar to start visiting every person named Black in New York City. Along the way, Oscar is forced to confront his fears about life, death, and love.

I’m not quite sure what the critical acclaim is for this book. While there were some notable and quotable lines and some thought-provoking discussion about death, loneliness, and guilt, the story dragged. Oscar’s search for the key seemed highly unrealistic, and his mother’s reaction to it even more unrealistic, even with the weak explanation at the end of the book. The breaks in narration and expositions from an older woman and man were also jarring, as you don’t know who they are until later in the novel. The man spends most of his adult life communicating through writing, primarily with tattoos of yes and no on his hands (hence the cover of the book), after he becomes a mute with no real explanation of the cause.

The open-ended conclusion strikes me as intentional, since there really isn’t any life altering event at the end of the book. The change in their existence happened when Oscar’s father died, and we are merely observers of the aftermath. It seems almost voyeuristic in listening to the audiobook, as we observe Oscar visiting one Black residence after another. After looking at the print version of the book, I think I would have been just as … unimpressed as listening to the audiobook, as the formatting of the vignettes from the older woman and man are intentionally formatted in a way that I think would drive most English teachers nuts. The whole story just seemed pointless to me, and maybe that was Foer’s point was to express the pointlessness of life, or maybe the pointlessness of life that you feel after losing someone you care about, like Oscar does without his father. But I would have enjoyed a little more explanation and action instead of the stagnant nature of the novel.