Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a sad yet hopeful story of an 8-year-old boy who lost his dad in the attacks of 9/11. He finds a key that belonged to his father, and in his quirky thought processes, he concludes it must be a clue left by his dad specifically for him. All he has to do is work out which lock it opens and he’ll find what his dad had in mind.
The thing that stands out for me is the truth of the boy’s voice and experience. I’m a school counsellor, and I work with children. I found Foer’s writing breathtaking and understated. Of course Oskar was traumatised by the enormous loss of his father and all of the secondary losses, but just what “wounds” he sustained, the reader discovers slowly from the boy’s experiences. Never is it explained that he suffers from ASD, OCD or PTSD or anxiety or depression, nor are his quirky behaviours analysed. Instead, the reader spends time in Oskar’s head. The reader is present during those secret moments when he gives himself bruises and during the long nights when he can’t sleep and fills in the time obsessively “inventing.”
Oskar’s family members are equally broken, and the weaving of their tragic tales into Oskar’s is skilfully done. It is stark, strange and confusing, much like life in the aftermath of a catastrophe.