Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close follows the quest of nine-year old Oskar Schell to resolve the grief of his father's death - through the search for a strongbox which only one key can open.
Oskar is an eccentric kid. He wears only white, plays his tambourine incessantly, and spouts a cornucopia of internet trivia. As a child he is not entirely believable- a tad too precocious, a touch too insightful - but as a narrator he is an engrossingly quirky and touching creature. Through his eyes one is introduced to a world full of oddities, tragedies and fancies. Many of them are virtual, some of them are imagined and a few are painfully material.
Oskar's story is interwined with that of his grandparents, and their letters drive the narrative of a book ultimately concerned with both loss and love. Oskar's grandmother writes letters to him, his grandfather writes letters to Oskar's dad, and Oskar writes letters to everyone from Steven Hawking to Jane Goodall.
Jonathan Safran Foer employs a stunning range of linguistic and narrative devices, not to mention extensive use of 'visual writing'. There are pages with only sentence, and others crammed with so many words that the paper turns an impenetrable black. Blank pages represent the memoir that Oskar's grandmother writes on a typewriter with no ink; the last pages are photographs which form a fifteen page flip book.
In contrast to the avalanche of critical acclaim that followed Safran Foer's first book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close encountered ferocious criticism from many publications. Critics felt that its main protagonist was not believable as a nine-year old, or was simply too packed with idiosyncrasies to be a character of depth. Others bemoaned the use of visual writing, regarding it as distracting and even downright irritating. For many, it was simply too soon after the attacks on the World Trade Center to be fictionalising the event in such an energetic manner. Most agree that the book's strength lies in the last third, which cuts back on 'gimmicky' techniques and explains some of the more puzzling relationships more realistically.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is above all a book for those who can see past the less believable passages to the very real grief at the heart of the story. Its style will resonate most with those generations who have, like Oskar, grown up in a world suffused with images, many of them horrific, and sought out that which is whimsical and quirky to weather it.
The London Review of Books: "Coming out of a period during which our horrors have become ‘unimaginable’, Foer’s imagining of Oskar’s wish, to which the novel movingly builds, is a reminder that fiction, unlike life, finds a value in wishes that don’t come true."
San Francisco Chronicle: "...the mingling of story lines brings about some heartbreaking resonances..."
The Guardian: "...the writing of Jonathan Safran Foer has divided readers into vehemently opposed factions..."
Salon.com: "It seems clear at this point that Foer has successfully graduated from being a one-off wunderkind to an accomplished and graceful writer"