I wrote this reflection for my Modern Novel class in university. The book was highly engrossing, thought provoking, and — perhaps — profound.
The story is about Oskar, a precocious child who lost his father in the Twin Towers. The message, however, is about unity, healing, and the possibility of a wholeness that transcends hate.
Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a beautiful book. It is a book to be experienced, rather than just read. Blank space, color, photos, and small black words all combine to create a holistic picture that is greater than the sum of its parts. A metaphor for life. It is a book about pain, and loss, and the distance between people. But it is also a book about hope, and the journey back to wholeness. Back together.
By combining the story of 9-11 with Hiroshima and Dresden, Foer takes an American event and makes it universal. Rather than allowing his story to become a political or national commentary, he writes about the human experience. And by so doing, he demonstrates the power of art to bring healing. I would argue that Foer, by writing this book, allows us to see the events of September 11th with a new clarity. Perhaps not the clarity George Bush would have us posses. Not "us" versus "them". Not division. Not enmity. But unity. Pain and loss and death. The great levelers. The horrible monster under the bed that leaves us all equal. All human. All broken.
And in this way, I think that Foer’s book is truly profound. He has written about something horrible and real. A turning point in American history. A tragedy. A landmark. A rallying cry. But he has done so in a way that brings cosmos out of chaos (as Madeleine L’Engle might put it). A way that helps us be more human. Helps us feel more. Helps us see more. Replaces destruction with creativity. Focuses on love, rather than hate.
I love that Oskar’s journey passes through so many people’s lives. As he struggles to stay connected to his father, to feel and not feel, to make some sense out of anything at all, he touches and touches and touches. All the Blacks with all of their individual pains and joys. His grandmother. His grandfather. His doorman. The cab driver. The limo driver. His mother. The child, with all of his quirky habits, brilliance, and pain, is so very much alive. And without knowing he is doing it—without really trying to do it—he brings that life to others.
And this is why Foer’s narrator must be a child. For the overabundance of life. Of feeling. For the honesty of pain. Oskar’s “heavy boots.” Foer contrasts this perspective, and the new pain, with Oskar’s grandparents, and their old pain. Oskar believes the world can somehow be alright again if he can just find a lock that matches a key. Or dig up an empty grave. For his grandparents, life is more complex. They live in a world where nothing will every be alright again. Where words have run out. Or the space in which to write them. And without the words, how can gaps be bridged? And yet, they too journey with Oskar towards hope. Towards healing. Towards each other.