Monday, April 23, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

This was the latest pick for my book club. Seeing that our meeting is this week, I figured I should probably finish the book. So I picked it up last night and sort of sped through the last part that I had left to read. 


If you want the summary, as always, it is here. 

My awareness that this book existed when I saw previews for the movie. I never saw the movie, so I don't have an opinion about it, but from what I remember of the previews, the movie was supposed to look like this really epic journey of a little boy trying to grasp for one final reminder of his father who was killed in the 9/11 attacks. The preview makes you believe that his father had set up this whole "treasure hunt" for lack of a better term, before he died, for his son to follow. 

More or less, the book is that way as well. Oskar finds a key hidden in a blue vase that he accidentally breaks. With the name "Black" written on the envelope, Oskar of course believes this has something to do with the key, and he starts on his journey to find every person named "Black" in the city and see if they knew anything about the key. 

Firstly, I couldn't get past the format of this novel. I read the kindle version on my tablet, so of course I was able to see the pictures every couple of pages, but there were things about it that just drove me crazy. One was the lack of structure when it came to dialogue. Every paragraph of un-tagged dialogue I came to, I basically cringed with knowing I'd have to slog my way through. I'm sure that Foer knows the proper way to format dialogue, though I haven't read any of this other books, and I'm sure there's a reason he did this. The characters are from New York City, a place that is known for their fast talking and fast lives. Perhaps this method was used to convey how quickly all those characters would probably talk to each other. That makes sense, but I still feel that I lost a lot about the story from skimming through, not having the patience to figure out who was talking. I could just be letting out my snobby english degree education though. My bad. 

Second, zooming out from the dialogue structure, the structure of the novel as a whole was rough for me as well. I could be a lazy reader, but I don't like having to wonder and figure out who the heck is talking, or writing, or whatever. There are so many parts about this novel that are so lost on me because I didn't know who was talking, or what part they had. The other confusing thing was to have multiple characters with the same name. The flashback type chapters about Budapest and the bombings from the war confused me a little bit just from trying to figure out who was who. The end of the novels, in regards to Oskar's grandmother and grandfather, left me wondering what happened to them, and if they died or left or something. 

This brings me to the end of the novel. "Unsatisfying" is the best word I have for it. We find out that Oskar's whole journey was basically pointless, because his father in fact had not set up some treasure hunt for his son to follow, and that the wasted weekends of tracking down all these people that led from one dead end to the next just made this reader think "why did I even read this?" Of course, one random guy, who we meet briefly near the beginning of the novel, who was yelling and grumbling in the next room, was actually the owner of the key, and we find out he doesn't seem to be that bad of a person, but I was really disappointed that Oskar didn't even want to go see what was in the safety deposit box. BIG let down. 

Now that I've complained about the novel, here's something not as negative reactions. 

I did not do any extra research about this novel yet, though I probably will later, but I know that there is something up with Oskar. I want to say he has some sort of psychological disorder. Things are very particular in his life. And his personal rule of only wearing white (even before his father died) is interesting, but I'm not sure what it is supposed to mean. I thought at first that he started to do this after his father died, as a way of trying to make himself clean after the awful destruction that took place from the attack. However, later on there is a mention of him only wearing white while his father was still alive. 

I also wondered about the self-harm aspect of his life. I don't recall any extra mentions about it except for when he actually hurts himself or wishes that he could hurt himself. This sort of confused me, and I wondered if, after the scope of the novel, that if he never got any extra help, he would turn to other forms of self harm, such as cutting. This actually makes me worry about Oskar's character, because I know people who've had trouble with this sort of thing in the past. And he's so young to feel he must hurt himself for something. 

I did like that the extra story about his grandparents actually paralleled what happened to Oskar. In Budapest, the village was plagued by the war going on around them, which eventually hit home when the bombings occurred, killing many people and forcing other to flee the village. The bombing also caused the characters involved to feel the same kind of loss, losing a parent or friend who they had been very close with. 

And did anyone else find Oskar's grandfather sort of despicable? I had no respect for him. 

This is long enough, though I may revisit this novel with some other thoughts at another point in time.