Thoughts On Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close


The Renter and Oskar in the 2012 film adaptation

From Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer:

“A millimeter at a time, the Sixth Borough receded from New York…

“The phone and electrical lines snapped, requiring Sixth Boroughers to revert to old-fashioned technologies, most of which resembled children’s toys…

“Young friends, whose string-and-tin-can phone extended from island to island, had to pay out more and more string, as if letting kites go higher and higher.

“ ‘It’s getting almost impossible to hear you,’ said the young girl from her bedroom in Manhattan as she squinted through a pair of her father’s binoculars, trying to find her friend’s window.

“ ‘I’ll holler if I have to,’ said her friend from his bedroom in the Sixth Borough, aiming last birthday’s telescope at her apartment.

“The string between them grew incredibly long, so long it had to be extended with many other strings tied together: his yo-yo string, the pull from her talking doll, the twine that had fastened his father’s diary, the waxy string that had kept her grandmother’s pearls around her neck and off the floor, the thread that had separated his great-uncle’s childhood quilt from a pile of rags. Contained within everything they shared with one another were the yo-yo, the doll, the diary, the necklace, and the quilt. They had more and more to tell each other, and less and less string.

“The boy asked the girl to say ‘I love you’ into her can, giving her no further explanation.

“And she didn’t ask for any, or say ‘That’s silly,’ or ‘We’re too young for love,’ or even suggest that she was saying ‘I love you’ because he asked her to. Instead she said, ‘I love you.’ The words traveled the yo-yo, the doll, the diary, the necklace, the quilt, the clothesline, the birthday present, the harp, the tea bag, the tennis racket, the hem of the skirt he one day should have pulled from her body.” “Grody!” “The boy covered his can with a lid, removed it from the string, and put her love for him on a shelf in his closet. Of course, he never could open the can, because then he would lose it’s contents. It was enough just to know it was there.

“…So they floated away, one millimeter at a time.”

– “The Sixth Borough,” pages 219-220

One day, I want to meet Jonathan Safran Foer.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is Foer’s second novel, and it’s the type of book that I would like to write. Having seen the film earlier this year, I knew what was coming, and yet I still found myself caught up in Oskar Schell’s quest to make sense of the tragedy that took his father’s life (September 11) and his own grief.

We stopped laughing, I took the world into me, rearranged it, and sent it back out as a question: “Do you like me?”

– “Why I’m Not Where You Are: 5/21/63,” page 117

The story is told in a straightforward narrative from Oskar’s perspective. It’s broken up by letters from his grandparents. Oskar’s grandfather, Thomas, also known as “The Renter,” writes letters he cannot send to his son, trying to explain why he abandoned his wife and child. His letters are titled “Why I Am Not Where You Are,” and they are written in the stream of consciousness. They are occasionally interrupted by simple words and phrases that Thomas writes in his daybook. Thomas, having suffered through a trauma during World War II, is unable to speak and communicates solely through writing. He has tattooed the words “Yes” and “No” on his left and right hands respectively.

“…when I rub my hands against each other in the middle of winter I am warming myself with the friction of YES and NO, when I clap my hands I am showing my appreciation through the uniting and parting of YES and NO, I signify ‘book’ by peeling open my clapped hands, every book, for me, is the balance of YES and NO, even this one, my last one, especially this one.”

– Why I Am Not Where You Are: 5/21/63, page 17

Oskar’s grandmother writes letters entitled “My Feelings” to Oskar about her relationship with his grandfather and why she allowed him to return. While Thomas fills the page from margin to margin with all the words he cannot say, Oskar’s grandmother writes in individual sentences, using the white space of the page for pauses and emphasis.

When I was a girl, my life was music that was always getting louder.

– My Feelings, page 180

Scattered through out are the pictures that Oskar has collected in a scrapbook he calls Stuff That Happened To Me.

“What do you think is going on?” “I feel too much. That’s what’s going on.” Do you think one can feel too much? Or just feel in the wrong ways?” “My insides don’t match up with my outsides.” “Do anyone’s insides and outsides match up?” “I don’t know. I’m only me.”

– Happiness, Happiness, page 201

It’s a novel that is meant to be experienced, not just read.

Picture of Abby Black in Oskar’s scrapbook.

Thomas Schell, Sr., communicating.

Oskar eavesdrops on his shrink’s conversation with Oskar’s mother, while on the opposite page a person falls from the World Trade Center.

Searching for clues.

I was entranced by this book, not just by the story (which I already knew from the film), but by the words and their very presence on the page. Foer is definitely on my (growing) list of authors I want to meet.

Just wanted to share that with all of you.

Oskar in the 2012 film adaptation

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