Book Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Hollywood recently made this book into a movie starring Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks. I haven’t seen it; I generally have a thing about movies from books. First I have to read the book. If I enjoy the book, I find out if that the movie stuck to the story line and didn’t take a lot of creative license with it. If it stays true, then I will go see the movie. I hate when a movie turns out to be just “inspired” by the book of the same title.

I am not sure I want to see the movie based on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the book. I don’t know if it follows the story. But there are some things I would rather not see on the big screen.

There were some scenes that caused me to think, “Why did you add that? Was that really necessary?” There are descriptions of initiating sexual contact that I felt were out of place at times. But that is part of my bias. An author can write a great story and not include sex. Great examples are The Hunger Games, anything by Robert Frost or Terry Pratchett. Yes, sometimes the sex plays a key part in the storyline, like in Kushiel’s Dart, but not every time. I feel that this book could have used less.

The storyline is powerful. The book follows three characters, jumping between the memoirs of Grandfather, Grandmother, and Oskar. Each character has a tragedy and loses someone important to them. The personal back stories are shared in such a way that you understand why each character is the way they are: quirky, broken, emotional scarred, or afraid of relationships.

I don’t want to see the realistic nature of the life challenges played out on the big screen. I am okay reading about it, perhaps because it keeps it less real. Perhaps the story is stored in my brain differently than a movie. Visual images forcefully pop into my thoughts more often than the images from a book (although a book plays like a movie as I read). Jonathan Safran Foer does an amazing job helping the reader into the mind of a child with autism. The first chapter, “What The?,” provides the insight into who Oskar is and how he interprets the world around him. The author doesn’t come out and say “Oskar is demonstrating autistic behaviors,” but if you have ever worked with a child, or have a child, dealing with autism some of the behaviors or thought processes make the diagnosis obvious. Oskar also exhibits a high intelligence. His brilliance is only enhanced by his autism. He is always inventing ways to solve problems, or care for those around him.

I could invent a teakettle that reads in dad’s voice, so I could fall asleep, or maybe a set of kettles that sings the chorus of “˜Yellow Submarine,’ which is the song by the Beatles that I love”¦

Another thought that Oskar had to help others:

What if the water that came out of the shower was treated with a chemical that responded to a combination of things, like your heartbeat and your body temperature, and your brain waves, so that your skin changed color according to your mood That way if you were extremely excited your skin would turn green, and if you were angry you’d turn red, obviously, and if you felt like shiitake you’d turn brown, if you were blue you’d turn blue.

I love Oskar’s idea for the shower. He goes on to explain that if you were colored for your mood then you would know how to treat everyone you see. That would solve so many problems caused by unshared emotions.

It’s just that everything was incredibly far away from me. I started inventing things, and then I couldn’t stop, like beavers, which I know about.

The inventing is part of normal life. A typical child will wonder “what if.” Not every child does this to the extreme of Oskar. I have some “what if”s that have stayed with me over the years. My personal favorite is “what if everyone grew one inch a year?” Follow that line of thought for a bit. I even invented a button that the driver would push to flash a sign in the rear window: “Get off my tail” in neon light.

Several parts of the story pulled me in emotionally. I couldn’t stop reading. I was challenged to close the pages to focus on other things. I am not sure my attachment to each character through their loss is because I was going though the loss of my grandmother that weekend or not. But the author drew me into the story, held me there as events unfurled for each character. I desired to help each of them; I craved resolution, a solution to the trauma. I know life does not resolve nicely with a happy ending. When I get invested in a character I want the ending to say, “and everyone lived happily ever after.” Perhaps I am just hopelessly optimistic.

The author does gives a glimmer of change for each of the characters, a glimpse of healing for all of them, but you know that life won’t be perfect. The problems that each character struggles with will still be there tomorrow. But maybe, just maybe, each person will be able to face those problems differently in the morning.

This story does a fantastic job explaining how we touch other lives. Our actions and reactions to events shape how we interact with the world and those in it. Oskar makes a difference in the lives so many people, trying to find a connection to his father. But he lacks closure with people as well. The thought-provoking story caused me to ponder relationships with those around me, in the hopes touching lives of others.

By Trulybst

Pursuing life to its fullest. A woman, a mom, wife, and struggling teacher who knows the importance of treating myself right.

6 replies on “Book Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer”

It’s been a long time since I’ve read this book but I know that I loved it. I felt like I was actually reading about a child – not reading what an author was writing about a child. You know? Sometimes an author will create a narrator but won’t write IN the character of the narrator. With this book, I never stopped thinking I was being led around the city by a child. A child I really, desperately wanted to hang out with.

I loved this book, too. For some reason Oskar’s story behind his Grandmother calling “Oskar”, whether it’s a questioning or calling for a response or just starting a sentence, and his constant response “I’m okay” stays with me. The whole thing just pulls the right chords for me. But I don’t think I’ll ever watch the movie. If nothing else, the book is so visual- not just Foer’s descriptions, but the actual pages, how some pages the print gets smaller, or get bigger, or the pages of scrawling and scribbling- it invokes so much more understanding and emotion (to me). How do you put those kind of visually written cues onto the big screen? And so much of the story being from Oskar’s perspective, which is, as you say, unique, that I just don’t know that it would translate in the same manner.

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