September 11, 2001 affected millions of Americans, laying the base for a multitude of different mediums, including novels. “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer generates the story of the impact the attacks had on one family and one 9-year-old boy.
Oskar goes through his days in a sad, confused haze, remembering lessons his father, Thomas, had taught him and experiences they had together before September 11. Thomas dies in the attack, and the novel centers on the events occurring after that day.
Intelligent and creative, Oskar is an exceptional child. Foer does not create him as an adult, but rather as an intelligent, comical and emotional adolescent. Relying on education and his family, Oskar tries to cope with the sudden loss of his father.
Oskar hides Thomas’s last messages at home, recorded on the answering machine and discovered by Oskar when he arrived home from school. Through deciding what to do, how to protect his mother and how to cope with his mother’s new “friend,” Oskar explores his own mind and the reality in which he is surrounded.
Foer emphasizes the confusion Oskar feels toward the death and his mother’s sudden interest in another man. The idea of family is emphasized as Oskar tries to deal with his confusion toward his mother and through the relationship he holds with his grandmother.
“Heavy boots” becomes Oskar’s mantra to describe his sadness, with an increase or decrease in weight showing what he’s experienced that day and whom he has met. Foer creates a unique, childlike way of measuring emotion, as Oskar is still too young to understand them.
The innocent manner with which Oskar approaches situations is an effective creation by Foer. The novel seems like stream of consciousness, a mix of events and ideas all combining in a haphazard, seemingly innocent way. In truth, Foer follows Oskar through understanding and acceptance, incorporating each character into an intricate web that helps Oskar deal with his grief.
Oskar feels closer to Thomas when he is near his possessions. While rummaging through them, Oskar finds a key in a package labeled “Black” hidden in a vase in Thomas’s room.
Oskar sets out to find the lock, which becomes a symbol of his father. Oskar believes the key will help him uncover secrets about Thomas and ultimately bring him closer to the person he lost.
Traveling around the city, Oskar begins his search with an alphabetical list of Black’s, believing the envelope corresponded to a name. He meets a range of characters, including a 103-year-old war veteran who lived above Oskar in his apartment building and joins Oskar on his mission. These characters all impart knowledge on Oskar, influencing him and shaping the rest of his life.
The novel expands beyond Oskar’s direct interactions, incorporating letters from Oskar’s grandmother to him and from Oskar’s grandfather to Thomas. Oskar’s grandfather is never truly explored. Foer emphasizes the hurt and confusion intertwined in everyone’s lives, shown when Oskar’s grandfather leaves his grandmother and other losses that follow.
Oskar’s trials bring September 11 to a personal level, emphasizing reactions and attempts to understand something that is almost impossible to accept.
Staff writer Kelly Bleck can be reached at email@example.com.