Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bookshelf: Jonathan Safran Foer (Part Trois)



*****

I don't know what to say.

I really don't. There's so much to say and yet there's nothing to say. It is so overwhelmingly heartbreaking that a part of me doesn't want to say anything. I just want you to read it - "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close".

I can't work out in my head what I feel about the book. Perhaps I need more time to digest it, let it work it's way into random thought bubbles throughout the next week. I'm sure that'll happen regardless. I just really want you to read it and have your own reaction.

It's hard for me to put into words what "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" is about, but I'll give it a shot. Why do I feel like I'm about to try to summit Everest?

There are two stories that inevitably collide. The first is the story of two young people who share a horrible history - losing their families (their worlds) in the bombing of Dresden in WWII. Years later they reunite and enter into a relationship of sorts together. With the passing of time and the growing distance between their old happy lives and their new shattered reality they lose their ability to fully communicate with each other. But they do what they can. It's really sad, the spaces that separate them, never letting them really be together, but the way that each of them tells their story is beautiful and rushed and real.
Then we have the story of little Oskar Schell. Precocious, smarter than his years, maybe somewhere on the Autism Spectrum?, horribly broken. I can recall exactly where I was when the towers were hit and crumbled. I was in Ithaca, NY in my Political Science class when they were hit and I watched them fall on the tv in the basement of my dorm. I can recount to you every moment of that day, and I wasn't even there, in the city. But Oskar Schell, he lost his father that day and with his father went a lot of unanswered questions. Oskar is insanely curious, about pretty much everything, and his curiousity leads to a search for the lock that a key he finds in his father's closet will presumably open. In his search (which spans almost a year) he encounters a cast of characters that often had me laughing and sometimes brought me to the verge of tears. All I wanted was to hug Oskar and tell him that the lies he told were okay, that the secret that haunted him and that he couldn't tell his mother or anyone, that it was okay. Gosh, I'm getting all choked up just thinking about it.

I really don't know what else to say. I guess I should say I was surprised, mostly because I went backwards. I read Jonathan Safran Foer's "Eating Animals" first. Which is non-fiction and turned me vegetarian (and I haven't looked back). "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" is fiction and was written in 2005. It's also more amazing than I ever expected from him. But I suppose I should have expected nothing short of amazingness since he was willing to break into and trudge through a turkey building on a covert ops at night in order to do proper research for "Eating Animals". I get all churning-stomachy just thinking about it. Bleh. But what I'm trying to say is that I shouldn't have been surprised. Jonathan Safran Foer is so deserved of the praise his books have and continue to receive. He's nothing short of amazing (and so young!). My only con (and really it's just personal preference) is that I wish in the parts written by the Dresden couple, that instead of using the Tab bar between sentences it had been a line break or nothing at all. I found the tabs to be distracting and it wasn't needed at all because I understood. He takes a lot of liberties in this book, filling pages with pictures, sometimes only using one sentence per page, and using red pen to highlight errors in one part of the story. I appreciated all of that because I understood the point and it was necessary to the whole of the story.

I could continue gushing with praise but instead I want to mention a random coincidence (if you believe in coincidences). Last Thursday I was waiting for the T after dance class. Right before dance class (which is a hip hop class, by the way) I had read a part of the story that brought me to tears. Then I closed the book and jumped around for an hour to Britney Spears music. It's amazing how I can turn my brain off for dance but not for sleep. But I digress. Anyways, I was standing there waiting for the T and I pulled out the book and began reading. I had not read more than two sentences when I glanced up to read the poster positioned directly in front of me on the other side of the track. It was advertising a play at the American Repertory Theatre exploring the life and ideas of Richard Buckminster Fuller. I looked down at the book and back up at the sign at least three times. And then I thought "What the..."

Go pick up "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close". And "Eating Animals" while your at it.

Happy reading!

~Stephanie
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