‘My insides don’t match up with my outsides.”
“Do anyone’s insides and outsides match up?”
“I don’t know. I’m only me.”
“Maybe that’s what a person’s personality is: the difference between the inside and outside.”
“But it’s worse for me.”
“I wonder if everyone thinks it’s worse for him.”
“Probably. But it really is worse for me.”
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close follows the journey of a boy whose father died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Oskar is understandably traumatized, and can’t seem to get over losing his father, with whom he had a very special relationship. One day, Oskar finds a key in an envelope with the word “Black” on it, and becomes convinced that his father left it as a clue. He decides to ask everyone with the surname Black in NYC, and so goes door to door interviewing people who seem unsurprised to see him.
The story is told from Oskar’s point of view. Oskar is a precocious nine year old, and his perspective is basically that of a depressed ball of quirks. I have no idea what it’s like to be nine and lose your father in a terrorist attack, and I tried to empthasize, but this style of narration bugged the shit out of me. He uses terms like “heavy boots” for sadness, and writes letters to Stephen Hawking and Jane Goodall. When I was nine, I was a smarty pants know-it-all reading advanced books and raising my hand in class. But even I would have wanted to punch this kid. But then I would have felt bad, because dead father. Dead father trumps all, but it made me mad that Foer seemed to fall back on it so much.
The other part of the story is really about Oskar’s grandfather. He, too, has a terribly sad past: his first love died in the Dresden bombings while pregnant with his child, so he stops speaking completely. He comes to America, marries the woman’s sister, and tries to have a life. He has YES and NO tattooed on his palms, and carries books with him so he can write down questions and responses. It should have been sad, but it was…gimmicky. I felt manipulated rather than sympathetic.
I know a lot of people really liked this book. And I tried. But it couldn”t seem to find a good balance between quirkiness and tragedy, and the result just irritated me. Foer was trying too damn hard with his writing. One man speaks only in exclamation points. The grandfather doesn’t speak at all. The grandmother writes pages and pages of her history, but the typewriter is out of ink. Seriously. The only person who made sense in the whole book was Oskar’s therapist, who’s barely in it at all. Random pictures of doorknobs and people falling from buildings appear. The text size randomly changes. Pick one quirk and go with it!