Let’s get this over and done with in this opening sentence: I fell in love while reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
And since this is a book blog, and my comeback post, too, I’d take this time to lament and woe and fill you with much love and heartbreak.
Allow me to start with the tactile romance I have developed with my particular copy. I bought the hard cover publication of Houghton Miffin Harcourt Publishing Company with two of Foer’s novels, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Now, I love hard covers, especially when they come with a relatively cheap price, but as you well know [or not], I bring a book with me all the time, and hard covers are not travel friendly. But this edition is just pretty. I fell in love with the margin, paper, font, smell, spaces, bind, and then I sound like a total dork. For some reason, I believe that this new found romance made Foer’s already beautiful words even, well, more beautiful.
Now, over with the gushes of a dork and on to the story. I know that for a blog like this to work, a short summary is an unspoken requirement, but for this particular review, I apologize for failing to put out a decent summary.
Oskar Schell found a key in a blue vase in his father’s room. He was determined to find the lock that will open with this particular key and so he launches on a mission to find that lock, which is both heartbreaking and healing.
In Oskar’s journey, we meet a lot of characters and pry open their otherwise hidden sadness. Each character tells us a story that is but a part of their years living, but this particular slice of their lives translates too much pain.
Oskar himself, our brave and often hilarious main character, has too much brokenness in himself. It amazed me how a nine-year-old boy takes in the news of his father’s death with such positivism, but it was, in reality, more hurting to see how he tries to be happy and be his usual cheery self, while he was broken on the inside.
“I don’t know, maybe I’ll try not to ruin things by getting so emotional.” “Anything else?” “I’ll try to be nicer to my mom.” “And?” “Isn’t that enough?” “It is. It’s more than enough. And now let me ask you, how do you think you’re going to accomplish those things you mentioned?” “I’m gonna bury my feelings deep inside me.” “What do you mean bury your feelings?” “No matter how much I feel, I’m not going to let it out. If I have to cry, I’m gonna cry on the inside. If I have to bleed, I’ll bruise. If my heart starts going crazy, I’m not gonna tell everyone in the world about it. It doesn’t help anything. It makes everyone’s life worse.” “But if you’re burying your feelings deep inside you, you really won’t be you, will you?” “So?”
It saddens me to think that a nine year old boy could be as lonely like Oskar Schell. And it frightens me to realize that someone could share such emotions with a fictional character. It was an innocent kind of sadness that it is killing to see such a pure soul experience such brokenness. It was piercing and gripping. It made me hate things that could take away the youthfulness in his young spirit.
Another favorite sad character is Oskar’s neighbor, Mr. Black. How do I start telling you how lonely this man is? For one, he stayed in his room for years, thinking that he need not interact with people to live. How about the part where he hammered a nail to his bed for every morning that he spent with his wife gone? Or the part where he just read the lips of people and refuses to see hear the world?
This was one of the many parts where I just had to stop for my tears were already uncontrollable. His was a gripping tale of loving, losing, and moving on. It actually scared me to think of how, in the future, I or someone I know could end up as lonely as him–refusing to face the world, even hearing from the world.
Foer has learned the craft of show not tell perfectly with such depiction of characters through their actions, their words, and the way they chose to live their lives by choosing not to.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of the saddest novels that I have ever read. As a fan of sad and heartbreaking novels, it is quite rare that I find myself having the need to stop reading because I feel like I simply cannot take anymore sadness.
Every word in this novel tells more than a story, but more so, translates emotions. It is probably just me and my inadequacy to comprehend novels, but there were times that I would actually get lost in the narration, but would stubbornly go on reading because I was feeling it. Okay. That must have sucked for most readers. I mean, I get how readers read books to know the story and get that “show not tell” requirement satisfied, yadda yadda. But EL&IC opened this well of emotions in me and it does not helped that much that it was literally and figuratively rainy in my part of the world while I weep openly.
I did a terrible thing. I believe in the afterlife. I know you can’t take anything back. I wish that my days could be washed away like the chalk lines of my days.
His attention filled the hole in the middle of me.
Things were happening around us, but nothing was happening between us.
For eight months I followed him and talked to the people he talked to, I tried to learn about him as he tried to learn about you, he was trying to find you, but as you’d tried to fine me, it broke my heart into more piece my heart was made of, why can’t people say what they mean at the same time?
I wanted to touch him, to tell him that even if everyone left everyone, I would never leave him, he talked and talked, his words fell through him, trying to find his floor of sadness.
The pain that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close gave me felt like a drug, which I knew, had I taken too much would have probably left me with the lost of hope and of life. It had the ability to make you long for pain and feel alive, but to take them in little, regular doses, so as to make you be alive for days, quite literally stretching your misery.
And then of course, there was love. Too much of it, in fact. The story tells us of a lot of kinds of love, but they were sad loves. Unspoken, unrequited, unending.
It’s the tragedy of loving, you can’t love anything more than something you miss.
I put my hand on him. Touching him was always so important to me. It was something I lived for. I never could explain why. Little, nothing touches. My fingers against his shoulder. The outsides of our thighs touching as we squeezed together on the bus. I couldn’t explain it, but I needed it. Sometimes, I imagined stitching all our little touches together. How many hundreds of thousands of fingers, brushing against each other does it take to make love? Why does anyone ever make love?
I like to see people reunited, maybe that’s a silly thing, but what can I say, I like to see people run to each other, I like the kissing and the crying, I like the impatience, the stories that the mouth can’t tell fast enough, the ears that aren’t big enough, the eyes that can’t take in all of the change, I like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone.
I wanted to be like these characters, to share and bring this much happiness, to love like there’s no tomorrow, to experience the same pain from pushing your limits, and to learn to love again.
I hope that one day you will have experience of doing something you do not understand for someone you love.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was a journey to opening our deepest well of emotions, recognizing our fears, and our desires to love and be loved. With these, I leave you with my own proof of falling in love while reading this book.
Feeling pain is still better than not feeling, isn’t it?
I hope you never love anything as much as I love you. Over.