Very rarely do I listen to book clubs that tell me what I should be reading. Every time Oprah proclaims that something is worth reading, it flies off the shelves, and I think I avoid her choices for that reason. I’m viciously independent when it comes to finding good books – I want to discover the tasty ones myself.
But I’ve recently made one exception – “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer, the new pick for Marquette County and NMU’s “One Book, One Community” program. With similar programs nationwide, “One Book, One Community” encourages faculty, students and the general public to read the same book and come together for a discussion at certain times of the year.
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” slated for the program’s fall discussion, will definitely spark some colorful feedback.
Written from the perspective of nine-year-old Oskar Schell, this book starts two years after Oskar’s father was killed in the 9/11 attacks, or “the worst day” as Oskar refers to it. While sitting among the clothes in his father’s closet and reveling in memories, Oskar accidentally breaks a vase and discovers an envelope with a key hidden inside.
While Oskar’s father was alive, he’d often send Oskar on ambiguous missions in Central Park; anything could be a clue, and he never knew exactly he was supposed to be looking for. He interprets the mysterious key as another one of these missions, and embarks on a dedicated quest to find out what it unlocks. Between meeting everyone in New York City with the last name Black and telling over 70 lies, Oskar uses the experience to help him grieve and do something that he believes would make his late father proud.
Foer, who is also the author of the book-turned-movie “Everything is Illuminated,” is known for his abstract writing. You know an author is a little nutty when characters as simple as family pets are given whack-a-doo names – Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. the dog in “Everything is Illuminated” and Buckminster the cat in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” for example.
Another commonality between Foer’s two books is his use of epistolary form. He intersperses letters every so often between the prose, which not only gives readers a break from his activity-packed plots, it also offers a unique insight into the characters’ personal histories. Foer allows us to get to know his characters on a personal basis, which is an amazing and sometimes terrifying experience.
After being introduced to Oskar’s mannerisms and language, it seems unrealistic that he’s only nine years old. Kids that age are saying off-the-wall, half-baked things, not “I conducted a pretty fascinating experiment once where I told Fritz to save all the dust from our apartment for a year in a garbage bag for me. Then I weighed it. It weighed 112 pounds. Then I figured out that 70 percent of 112 pounds is 78.4 pounds. I weigh 76 pounds, 78 pounds when I’m sopping wet. That doesn’t actually prove anything, but it’s weird.”
But with an offbeat writer like Foer at the helm, it makes sense somehow. Whoever chooses the “One Book, One Community” books knew what they were doing with “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” because although the topic of 9/11 is nothing that hasn’t been covered already, the way it’s presented in Foer’s novel will break your heart on an entirely new level.