With “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, Jonathan Safran Foer has written a novel for everyone.
The novel is filled with humanity, emotions, tempers, lost, kindness and the human connection that we all share. Foer describes with such compassion the delicate relationships between us in a compelling unbelievable journey, which although is so unlikely, gives us a chance to hope and have faith in each other in this completely strange world we occupy.
Although the book is praised to have dealt with the sorrows of 9/11, I didn’t really feel this was the objective of the book. The novel is merely using 9/11 as an instrument to address a much vaster topic of human kind. It’s not just the lost and pain of the 9/11 victims that readers feel, it is also the suffering and regrets of victims of wars before my generation’s time. The feeling of compassion I had for these characters proves that Foer can genuinely tuck at heartstrings with sincerity and love.
I read reviews of this book upon completion, and many criticisms of the novel revolves around the “over-the-top” portrayal of human emotions, or the fact that Foer had “stolen” ideas from other works, or the unlikely events in the story. I however received the book with more open arms and I embraced the modern fairy tale emerging from the sadness and loneliness of our lives. Foer offers his readers hope and courage to cure ourselves from the prison that we build for ourselves by curling into our own blanket of silence. We can break the silence and reach out to others.
Contrary to what some online comments say about the nine-year-old Oskar Schell, I found him very adorable and creative. From the first chapters I admired his ideas to “fix” the problems he sees around him; impractical ideas, to be fair, since he is only supposed to be nine years old, but ideas that reflect his longing for compassion and care. My favourite Oskar Schell idea was the idea of building a massive system of drains from everyone’s pillows to collect people’s tears when they cry at night, and in the morning the weatherman can inform the entire city of how much people have cried. I admire that kind of caring thought, and it made me think of how much we estrange each other.
In an era of instant connection via internet, Foer offers a completely different way for us to connect to others: go on a journey on foot. As the novel traces Oskar’s clumpsy footsteps throughout New York, readers are opened to a world much different from the one we envision in our heads when we think of “the world out there”. It is a city where there are no kidnappers, there is no reason to be afraid of talking to a stranger, asking strangers about their personal thoughts. It is a world where you can ask for a hug, a kiss without feeling out of the norm, where people can believe one another and support a child through his quest for the truth. This is why I think this story is a modern day fairy tale; it represents such simple dreams and hopes romantically in an imagination that is so close, yet so unbelievable.
Oskar’s quest to find the truth hidden behind his father’s key isn’t an ordinary journey. And for those who were disappointed in the ending, I would say, “you have totally missed the entire point of the story.” It is a quest for intimacy, for belonging and love. Put in Oskar’s own words, his journey was to bring him closer to his father, a spiritual embarkation that revealed how similar we all are, in the quest to feel closer to another human being. Foer had depicted what I had always hoped was true: that somewhere out there someone is feeling the same way I am and is striving towards the same goal as I am. We are surprisingly parallel adventurers, and without knowing, we form invisible connections with our paths.
At the same time, the story is also about how we fail to reach out and understand one another: “He looked confused, or embarrassed, or surprised, or maybe even sad. I couldn’t tell what he was feeling, because I couldn’t speak the language of his feelings.” The characters often fail to express themselves, through the lack of courage and faith. This human flaw causes each of them to unintentionally hurt each other and drift apart. And yet shining brightly in the center of the story is a boy who is determined on his own goal, and without knowing, touches these adults and heal them in ways no reader could have predicted.
The novel is a stunning read, filled with gentle metaphors and pictures that will provoke thoughts and feelings. It is a book written for everyone because everyone needs a nice fairy tale to hope in and believe in.