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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer
"She died in my arms saying, “I don’t want to die.” That is what death is like. It doesn't matter what uniforms the soldiers are wearing. It doesn't matter how good the weapons are. I thought if everyone could see what I saw, we could never have war anymore."

Children in books about serious matters are often very precocious or highly-conflicted resulting in the author having the ability to maintain a standard of credibility for their story. It takes a special kind of person to make a dumb, easygoing young person hold up throughout the duration of the novel. Well, with our leading man Oskar Scholl you get both, a definitive, thoughtful, and multi-faceted individual who is currently dealing with the loss of his father and best friend Thomas in one of the fastest moving cities in the world. Oskar is a renaissance “boy” with interests in just about everything, but the things that young boys typically enjoy, and has thoughts that peers his own age could never dream of. A boy whose mind is constantly on the go, at times he blurts out strange yet interesting facts almost as a release in order to retain more information. He spends his free time writing letters to persons of interest, making jewelry, conjugating French verbs, listening to The Beatles, reading A Brief History of Time, conjuring up ideas for inventions that are based around personal safety, along with many other hobbies. His latest hobby has taken complete hold of him, and with any luck will provide him with some answers to these vital questions. This information will help aid in the completion of his personal grieving process as he embarks on an epic journey throughout New York and its five boroughs to fill in the gaps of his father’s last moments.

"Well! So many people enter and leave your life! Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to keep the door open so they can come in! But it also means you have to let them go!"

From a psychological perspective, superficially speaking Oskar is a standard case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but what makes it relatively unique is that he has a high-functioning case of Asperger's. He is often dealing with periods of depression which he refers to as “heavy boots”, insomnia which he combats with thinking of inventions waiting for the seven minutes to come before he can fall asleep, and anxiety where he does his best to avoid certain traumatic, emotional, feeling-oriented settings. With respect to his Asperger's he loves working shapes and patterns into his life, he always wears white clothing, he often doesn't understand certain social behaviours in situations, he is rather direct in voicing his feelings, and he has a penchant for self-harm. Oskar was quite dynamic to read about as he went through New York dealing with its entire cast of characters, whom all seemed to be quite cordial. New York gets a bad rap.

There are three distinct narratives being highlighted in this novel with the story of Oskar being the primary one. Equally important to the vitality of the story is that of Oskar's paternal grandmother and a man simply known as “The Renter”. We are not made aware of their names but their message is of great importance to the trajectory of the novel. Grandmother grew up in Dresden, Germany during World War 2 and was one of very few people to survive the bombings that devoured the city and all of its inhabitants. These moments in Dresden provide some heartbreaking accounts of war and a person’s willingness to overcome and endeavor for more. In Manhattan she married her late sister’s boyfriend Thomas and spontaneously got married. Together they lived in a household with a lot of rules and structure and as a result the baby to be was conceived out of the wife’s indiscretion with respect to the order of the relationship. At times it seems like a loveless marriage with little hope, but what you find is that these two individuals have lived a traumatic life and in a sense are lucky to have each other; otherwise they would have been lost living in a stark reality. Throughout the novel, grandma is the constant friend in young Oskar's life due to their similarities in life’s circumstances and the regrets they share in their last moments with their father. The Renter on the other hand is an enigmatic figure who Oskar perceives to be a figment of his grandmother’s imagination due to her old age. What we find out is that this shadow is very real, very peculiar, and has lived a very harrowing existence. There isn't much verbally shared between the two throughout the book, but emotionally speaking there is a profound presence from beginning to end.

She’s at home now, writing her life story, she’s typing while I’m leaving, unaware of the chapter’s to come. It was my suggestion, and at the time I thought it was a very good one, I thought maybe if she could express herself, if she had a way to relieve the burden she lived for nothing more than living, with nothing to get inspired by, to care for, to call her own, she helped out at the store, then came home and sat in her big chair and stared at her magazines, not at them but through them, she let the dust accumulate on her shoulders."

The author’s talent is inarguable; his attention to detail is demonstrated with great intuition while his willingness to go to the depths to each characters inner struggles in order to bring their story to light shows a meticulous devotion that is not found often found in contemporary novels. My main reservation about this novel centers on the style used and the resulting structure of the story. Your greatest strength at times can become your greatest weakness and with this story I felt that the author used too much force in his approach to relay information rather than using a more accessible and graceful process. It came across as too fantasy oriented and less realistic given that the reliance of emotion is important for comprehending the subject matter and the overall perspective of the book. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a story of mortality, forgiveness, the fragility of life, and the essential expression of love. It has some shortcomings, but I feel that it is the type of book that everyone should read once because it has the potential to be a favourite even if it it didn't happen to be mine.

"Grief and loss are probably the most fearful creatures that exist. But loss shouldn't be a fearful creature. It should be a creature of wisdom. It should teach us not to fear that tomorrow may never come, but live fully, as though the hours are melting away like seconds. Loss should teach us to cherish those we love, to never do anything that will result in regret, and to cheer on tomorrow with all of its promises of greatness. It's easy and un-extraordinary to be frightened of life. It's far more difficult to arm yourself with the good stuff despite all the bad and step foot into tomorrow as an everyday warrior."