Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

9780618329700-usFiction — print. Houghton Mifflin, 2005. 355 pgs. Library copy.

I finished Foer’s novel almost two weeks ago but it has taken me this long to pull some thoughts together. Admittedly, I was waiting for Erin of Erin Reads to post her wrap-up post for Reading Buddies so she could possible provide me some aid in writing my own review. I just could not seem to find the words to express my thoughts about the novel.

For those of you unfamiliar with the novel I really recommend going in with as little knowledge as possible.  I went into the novel not even knowing the plot summary and therefore had no expectations for what the novel should be. However, I know some like a basic plot summary so here is my attempt to not spoil the novel:

Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is still trying to deal with the death of his father two years ago. He is barely able to talk to his mother about his grief let alone his grandmother who depends on his constant reassurance that he is okay. Upon discovering a key in his father’s closet, Oskar is inspired to search all of New York for information about the key, about his father.

But, as I said above, I strongly urge you to go no further and pick up this book for yourself. I discussing my own thoughts I will inevitably spoil the novel for those who have not read it.

There are two things I loved about this novel – it’s portrayal of the events of 9/11 and children dealing with grief. The first aspect was especially noteworthy to me as other fictional books I have read about 9/11 have used those tragic events as a plot crutch rather than a catalyst for character development. Like the characters acknowledge the events but fail to really acknowledge the events, if that makes any sense. Foer manages to maintain a fine balance when using 9/11 as an integral part of the plot; it doesn’t feel over the top or misused.

Secondly, the way Foer presents unimaginable loss and grief through the eyes of a child was another complex layer of this book I enjoyed examining. The most heart wrenching part of this novel for me was when Oskar told his mother that if he had the option to choose between her or his father dying, he would had picked her. Oskar maybe too precocious and therefore too unrealistic for most readers (and I felt the same way at some points of the novel), but the sentiment Oskar expresses to his mother seems very realistic to me.

Finally, to answer the questions Erin posses in her final wrap-up post:

  • I wonder if Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close works so well because it goes beyond 9/11, gives it something of a context. What do you think? Would it have worked as well had 9/11 been the sole focus? I never drew the connection between the events of 9/11 and Oskar’s grandparents’ experience with the firebombing on Dresden, but I thought how Oskar’s grandmother dealt with her husband’s disappearance really echoed with how Oskar’s mother deals with the death of her husband. They both seem to have accepted it, to have moved on with their lives, but neither one wants to acknowledge their own pain or the pain of their child with this loss.
  • Did you have a favorite touching moment? I also loved how Oskar makes Morse Code jewelry so his mother will always carry his father’s final words (that she did not get to hear) with him.
  • Did you have a favorite quote? Probably my absolute favorite quote, which I also posted on my tumblr, is from the Mr. Black who shouts everything: “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!” (pg. 153). But there is also the exchange between Oskar’s grandmother and grandfather that goes:

“He wrote, Everything will be OK.

I told him OK wasn’t enough.

Everything will be OK perfect.

I told him there was nothing left for a lie to protect.

Everything will be OK perfect.” (pg. 178)

So to sum it up, I thought this book was wonderfully written. It was a struggle to put the book down over the two days I read it, and I am so glad I finally picked it up. Strongly recommended if you have yet to read it!

Others’ Thoughts:

Reading Buddies:

Hosted by Erin of Erin Reads, Reading Buddies was born out of Erin’s 2011 reading goal of tackling books on her TBR list. She put out a call to find out if anyone was interested in reading some of the same books along with her. Since she and I shared several books between our two lists, I jumped at the chance to cross books of my TBR list and read along with her. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was one of the selections for March. July’s selections include Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.


  1. As you could probably tell from my wrap-up, I had trouble writing up my post for this one, too. I found it really difficult to organize my thoughts and to cover everything I wanted to about the book. I like what you said about grief through the eyes of a child, even a precocious one. There were so many ways Foer slipped in how Oskar was coping, like the heavy boots or his inventing things, that I thought were really touching. Thanks for reading along, I’m glad you ended up loving the book!


  2. I know what you mean about finding it hard to review a book sometimes. I finished The Still Point by Amy Sackville a couple of weeks back and it was written so beautifully I don’t think I can do it justice in a review! I’m intrigued by this one and will be hopping over to Amazon to put it on my wish list.


  3. Pingback: Reading Buddies Wrap-Up: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer | Erin Reads

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