Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

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Have you ever read a book that resonates with you so deeply that it practically haunts your very existence in the most magical way possible? It is true when they say that books help us realize that we are not alone in this world. This un-put-down-able book was written by Jonathan Safran Foer and published in 2005. The story is narrated by a boy, Oskar Schell whose speech is nothing like that of a child and may perhaps be more philosophical and deep than the average adult. Sure, we all have our moments of existentialism but none like the ones Oskar has. He isn’t rediscovering himself, he is being brought to life to the person he is in relation to the world around him through the rather tragic death of his father during the 9/11 attack.

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Oskar is a little boy who lost his father when the planes hit the twin towers. He hears his father go silent as the phone line gets cut when he was trying to get through to Oskar in order to say goodbye. Oskar stands numb in the hall watching the attack on T.V and listening to the phone recording, dying slowly on the inside. Oskar suffers with the obvious symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) like insomnia, panic attacks and depression; unable to come to terms with the death of his father who was the key figure in guiding him and shaping him. He says this feeling, which he doesn’t quite know what it is at the time, is like constantly wearing heavy boots. One day while going through his fathers’ closet he breaks a vase and finds a key. This key just says “Black” and Oskar’s new mission is to find whatever it is this key belongs to. This urge is not only perpetrated by his need to hold on to the memory of his father but also because his father, Thomas, had always encouraged him to go exploring the city and interacting with people in order to help him break out of his introverted shell.

So, Oskar hunts down everyone with the last name Black and walks to each of their houses no matter how long it takes him. He stumbles across Abby Black with whom he becomes friends. While he walks around the city trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together, a man moves into the house with his grandmother and this man is his grandfather but he doesn’t realize it at first and even when he does he stays silent about the fact until he cannot keep it within himself any longer.

Eight months after having met Abby Black she leaves him a message saying that she might be able to help him. Oskar hasn’t touched the answering machine since his father died. He’s taken the answering machine with his fathers’ last words and stored them away, replacing it with an identical machine. Abby is, indeed, able to help and sends him to her husband William. He is disappointed that the key belongs to William and not him and goes home quite disinterested and destroys all evidence of his search. He also learns that his mother was secretly tracking his every movement because she was concerned for his well being and at the same time didn’t want to demean his efforts to find closure.

There is a dual narration in an epistolary form from letters to Oskar’s father from his grandfather and to him from his grandmother. The letters from his grandmother explain World War 2 to him and her life with his grandfather and the strain it had all had on their relationship.

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The story goes through various themes on death, depression, anxiety and other ailments that may affect a person due to some tragic happens and it does so beautifully and every word has a tendency to resonate with you and stay with you regardless of how long ago you may have read this book. Its beautiful prose telling the story of life itself can be extremely tear-jerking and heart wrenching at times but it is totally worth every tear and moment. The novel may have received a bunch of negative reviews but at the end of the day if it is paid the due attention there is something quietly fantastic and moving about the entire thing. The Spectator stated that, “Foer’s excellent second novel vibrates with the details of a current tragedy but successfully explores the universal questions that trauma brings on its floodtide…. It’s hard to believe that such an inherently sad story could be so entertaining, but Foer’s writing lightens the load.” And, “book is a heartbreaker: tragic, funny, intensely moving”. It also received a bunch of awards and was turned into a beautiful movie in 2012 starring the likes of Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.