Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

I can't say I loved this book because who can love a book about September 11? But for me, it was a heartbreaking and powerful book that I can't stop thinking about. The narrator, Oskar,  is an extremely bright and incredibly sensitive 9-year old boy with "heavy boots," because his father died on September 11. Oskar plays the tambourine, speaks French, reads Steven Hawking's A Brief History of Time, and corresponds with people like Jane Goodall and Steven Hawking. Oskar also invents things in his mind, like a birdseed shirt, so birds could carry you away when you might need to escape from somewhere, or a skyscraper that moves up and down while the elevator stays in place. Inventing things helps him to fall asleep at night and to not think about "the worst day." In a letter to Steven Hawking, he wonders if he will ever be able to stop inventing.

"I loved having a Dad who was smarter than the New York Times, and I loved how my cheek could feel the hairs on his chest through his t-shirt, and how he always smelled like shaving, even at the end of the day. Being with him made my brain quiet, and I didn't have to invent a thing."--Oskar

When Oskar finds a key in his father’s closet with the word Black written on the envelope, he begins a journey into finding the lock that fits the key, as well as a journey back into life in New York City.  He believes that the key must belong to someone named Black, so he goes to visit every Black in the NYC phonebook to see if they knew his father or if they know anything about the key. Along the way he meets some interesting characters, as you can imagine, all survivors of something with their own complicated stories.  The book is told from Oskar’s viewpoint, intertwined with the story of his grandparents, told in the form of letters from the grandfather to his son, Thomas Schell (Oskar’s father) and from his grandmother to Oskar. As survivors of the Dresden bombings in WWII, they have their own incredible and complicated stories to tell, and all these stories together give us just the teeniest sliver of insight into how people survive unimaginable tragedy.

I first tried to read this book a few years ago but was turned off by the graphics in the book--drawings, photos, blank pages,  and I dismissed it as another trendy book by a young author. But recently I was reading an article about books about 9/11 and this was listed as one of the best novels about 9/11. So I decided to listen to it on CD and was immediately drawn into Oskar’s story.  After driving to and from work I would bring the CD into the house to continue listening. And after it was finished, I didn’t want it to be over, so I went back and read the entire book, in book form, and this time I understood those diagrams and photographs and the blank pages, and the flip book ending.
“In bed that night I invented a special drain that would be underneath every pillow in New York, and would connect to the reservoir. Whenever people cried themselves to sleep, the tears would all go to the same place, and in the morning the weatherman could report if the water level of the Reservoir of Tears had gone up or down, and you could know if New York is in heavy boots.”--Oskar

1 comment:

  1. I have it here sitting on my coffee table, trying to make up my mind whether to read it or not. The premise does not sound that interesting, other than he's supposed to be very good as is this book. We'll see...I have been very picky lately, having just put one done after reading five pages...a woman who believes there such a thing as ONE GREAT LOVE OUT THERE...of course she is happily married but there is that blue eyed, blonde she had to say good by to...give me a break.