Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Foer)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 
Jonathan Safran Foer, 2005
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN-13: 9780618711659

Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11.

This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.

Jonathan Safran Foer emerged as one of the most original writers of his generation with his best-selling debut novel, Everything Is Illuminated. Now, with humor, tenderness, and awe, he confronts the traumas of our recent history. (From the publisher.)

The novel was adapted to film in 2011; it stars Tom Hanks, Thomas Horn, and Sandra Bullock.

Author Bio 
Where—Washington, D.C., USA
Education—B.A., Princeton University
Currently—lives in New York City

Jonathan Safran Foer was born in 1977 in Washington, D.C. He is the editor of the anthology A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the Work of Joseph Cornell, a Boston Globe bestseller. His stories have been published in the Paris Review, The New Yorker and Conjunctions. He lives in Queens, New York.

Recent literary history is rife with auspicious debuts, and Jonathan Safran Foer's arrival was one of 2002's brightest and most media-friendly. After all, the backstory was publicist-ready: Everything Is Illuminated began as a thesis at Princeton under advisers Joyce Carol Oates and Jeffrey Eugenides, and Houghton Mifflin reportedly paid somewhere around half a million dollars for the rights.

Foer achieved a fresh, creative approach to the English language by viewing it through the eyes of his foreign narrator, a young Ukranian man named Alex who works in a family tour operating business targeted toward American Jews seeking their family roots. Alex's comical, dictionary-aided writing consists of not-quite-right sentences such as "He is always promenading into things. It was only four days previous that he made his eye blue from a mismanagement with a brick wall." Alex's client, an American Jew named Jonathan Safran Foer, wants to find a woman who hid his grandfather from the Nazis. The two set out—with an old picture, and the name Augustine—to find the woman, bringing Alex's grandfather and an odiferous seeing-eye dog.

The story unfolds both through Alex's eyes and in a later correspondence with Jonathan, who reveals chapters of a fictionalized version of Augustine's story. Despite the novel's decidedly earnest and serious themes, what's most striking about it is its strange, resonant humor. Publishers Weekly saw "demented genius" in it; and Francine Prose, who also used the adjective "demented" for Foer's writing, noted in the New York Times Book Review, "The problem [with the book] is, you keep laughing out loud, losing your place, starting again, then stopping because you're tempted to call your friends and read them long sections of Jonathan Safran Foer's assured, hilarious prose."

Since Foer admitted to doing little research (although he did take a trip similar to the fictional Foer's, inspiring the book), and the historical fiction sections earned some critical gripes for being uneven (Salon called them "dime-store García Márquez"), the chief strength of Everything Is Illuminated lies in a scope and wit that are stunning from an author who was still finishing up college at the time he began it. The paperback rights for Everything Is Illuminated later went for reportedly close to $1 million. The book was adapted to film in 2005 with Elijah Wood in the lead role. (From Barnes and Noble.)

In his second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, published in 2005, Foer uses 9/11 as a backdrop for the story of 9-year-old Oskar Schell learning to deal with the death of his father in the World Trade Center. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close utilizes many nontraditional writing techniques. It follows multiple but interconnected storylines, is peppered with photographs of doorknobs and other such oddities, and ends with a 12-page flipbook.

Foer's utilization of these techniques resulted in both glowing praise and harsh censure from critics. Despite diverse criticism, the novel sold briskly and was translated into several languages.

• A vegetarian since the age of 10, Foer recorded the narration for "If This Is Kosher..." (2006), a harsh exposé of the kosher certification process that advocates vegetarianism and also includes Rabbi David Wolpe and Rabbi Irving Greenberg.

• Foer is the middle child of three sons. His older brother, Franklin, is the editor of The New Republic. His younger brother, Joshua, is a freelance journalist specializing in science writing. Foer married Nicole Krauss in June 2004. Their first child, Sasha, was born in February 2006.

• In the spring of 2008 he taught writing for the first time, as a visiting professor of intermediate fiction at Yale University. ("More" and "Extras" from Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews 
[Foer's] depiction of Oskar's reaction to phone messages left by his father as he awaited rescue in the burning World Trade Center, his description of Oskar's grandfather's love affair with Anna and his experiences during the bombing of Dresden—these passages underscore Mr. Foer's ability to evoke, with enormous compassion and psychological acuity, his characters' emotional experiences, and to show how these private moments intersect with the great public events of history.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times

Oskar's unconscious comedy and his poignant search for information about the man who spun bedtime stories out of fantasy and science. All he wants is some way to go back to that moment of sweet security before zealots murdered his father. The tragedy of September 11 has made Oskar older than his years, but in Foer's tender portrayal the grief that weighs him down makes children of us all.
Ron Charles - Washington Post

Oskar Schell...is a nine-year-old...[who] turns his naïvely precocious vocabulary to the understanding of historical tragedy.... Foer demonstrates once again that he is one of the few contemporary writers willing to risk sentimentalism in order to address great questions of truth, love and beauty.
Publishers Weekly

An emotionally devastating climax. No spoilers here, but we will say that the book—which includes a number of photographs and some eccentric typography—ends with what is undoubtedly the most beautiful and heartbreaking flip book in all of literature.

The humor works as a deceptive, glitzy cover for a fairly serious tale about loss and recovery.... [A] powerful conclusion that will make even the most jaded hearts fall. —Matthew L. Moffett, Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale, VA.
School Library Journal

[B]eautifully designed second novel from the gifted young author.... Oskar discovers...the meaning of his life (all our lives, actually).... Much more is revealed as this brilliant fiction works thrilling variations on, and consolations for, its plangent message: that "in the end, everyone loses everyone." Yes, but look what Foer has found.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions 
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

1. Talk about Oskar—an unusually precious child. Do you find him sympathetic or annoying? Or both?

2. For Shakespeare buffs: Oskar "plays Yorick" (the long dead jester whose skull Hamlet holds in his hand!) in a school production. What is the significance of that role? (See Hamlet: Act V, Scene I, Line 188).

3. Jonathan Safran Foer has said that he writes about characters and their miscommunications: some characters think they're saying a lot but say nothing; others say nothing but end up saying a lot. Which characters fall into which category in Extremely Loud? What might Foer be saying about our ability to communicate deep-seated emotions?

4. Some critics have wondered where Oskar's mother is and how the child is left alone to wander the streets of New York alone at night. Is that a relevant comment? Do you see this book as a work of realism (in which case the mother's role would matter) ... or as more of a fable, on the order, say, of Life of Pi? If the latter, what is Extremely Loud a fable of? (Like Pi, Oskar seems to be a quester—but of what?)

5. Do you find the illustratrions, sribblings, over-written texts, etc. a meaningful, integral part of the work? Or do you find them distracting and gimmicky? Why are they there?

6. How do both main plot and subplot (Oskar's grandfather and the bombing of Dresden) interweave with one another?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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