I recently read the book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.  This book is not only a literary masterpiece for its deft handling of the plot but if there is a better book to reveal the emotional impact of September 11th, I would like to know about it.

Foer manages to use multiple viewpoints to tell his story.  The main protagonist is Oskar Shell, a nine year old with some developmental challenges whose father is killed on 9/11.  The way Foer chooses to reveal the story through the eyes of this child is masterful. His frustration, his mother’s frustration and the reader’s frustration all ebb and flow through the book.  That process really drives home the reality of that day:  who knows what the truth is? 

Do not get me wrong:  not the truth that the conspiracy theorists would have us worry about.  This is the truth that asks:  what could I have done to make sure that my connectivity to this event did not cause the death of someone? 

Foer could have been happy with that emotional theme but instead he weaves in the convoluted and complex lives of characters who must deal with false love, aging, coming of age, self-loathing, the fire bombing of Dresden and the Holocaust. 

This novel restored my faith in storytelling.  Foer is a gifted author who integrates so many diverse subjects into his narrative and then highlights the significant clues to the mystery Oskar pursues with illustrations and graphics.  To base the whole tale on the search of a lock that will fit a magic key is a testament to how Foer can draw from other sources to enhance his own tale.

Book groups are going to have to make a decision as to how to handle the still powerful and sensitive material covered in this book.  I happened to have read this entire book on two connecting flights in one day and by the end I was a nervous wreck and in tears.  This book is so powerful that I am going to schedule a community wide reading of it on September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary.  Want to join me?



About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

Post a Comment