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Extremely Difficult and Incredibly Unnerving

It’s no surprise today to learn that the movie  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.  It has all the right things that a Best Picture nomination should probably have:

Tom Hanks.

Sandra Bullock.

Cute lil boy that reminds us of Haley Joel Osment.

9/11.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that its based on a book by Jonathan Safran Foer, who also wrote Everything is Illuminated, which was a good movie but did not have Sandra Bullock or Tom Hanks in it.  But it did have Elijah Wood if that counts for anything.

Anyway, I started reading ELIC this past Saturday and I am about 60% through it. Half of it is the first person narrative of a young boy named Oskar Schell who lost his father in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Oskar comes across a key in his father’s belongings which he believes is a clue that is father left for him to something quite extraordinary, so the book becomes Oskar’s adventure in finding out what the key goes to.

The book is written in a bit of stream of consciousness type format, in that almost all of the dialogue between Oskar and anyone else is crammed into one large paragraph, sentence after sentence, making it a bit hard to follow and determine who is saying what if you aren’t paying attention.

Chapters are frequently broken up by random photos which you learn Oskar is taking along the way: a door knob, the back of someone’s head, the front of a house… and then there are random photos that Oskar hasn’t taken but which point your attention to something trivial in the text: a roller coaster, a skeleton’s hand, an elephant’s eye up close.  There’s also a “falling man” picture that repeats itself throughout the book, reminding us that this is a 9/11 story.  By the way, the date has not been mentioned so far in the 60% of the book I’ve read.  You know they are in New York.  Oskar mentions his father was killed in a terrorist attack and mentions visiting Ground Zero, but other than that, the date itself has not been mentioned. I don’t know if that’s important, but I’m sure it was left out intentionally.

Speaking of things being left out, about every other chapter is told from the point of view of Oskar’s grandmother or grandfather. Their chapters are also told in an extreme stream of consciousness narrative…long run on sentences, short choppy sentences, no quotations around dialogue, long paragraphs, no paragraphs… it’s erratic and unorganized and very hard to follow at times.  Much of it appears to be drafts of journal entries that the grandmother has written to her son, Oskar’s father, about how his parents met, etc. The grandfather was a mute sculptor.  At least I think he’s mute, but I don’t really know if he was always mute.  He writes in a notebook a lot when conversing with his wife.  He also leaves her, but comes back later, maybe, I’m not sure…I still have 40% more to read, hopefully I’ll find out.

And hopefully, you get my point. This book is extremely hard to follow.  BUT….buried in it is something that makes me want to finish it instead of throwing it across the room, although I wouldn’t actually throw it because I’m reading it on my Kindle Fire.  Maybe, I’d delete it from the device instead with a smirk on my face.  There!  Take that ELIC!

But I’m going to finish it.  I don’t want to play the 9/11 card and say that’s why I’m reading it.  Sure, seeing the trailers for the movie helped.  It’s definitely meant to tug at our heart strings.  Maybe that’s even why some people don’t want to see the movie or read the book.

Though this is Foer’s 2nd book, his ability to fill a page with banter, but still give his reader those A-ha! moments like some archeologist who just found a femur bone on the last day of a five year expedition is amazing.  I stumble all over my tongue trying to describe this book to someone as I’m reading it, but deep inside, I get it.  Do you hear me Foer?  I get it.  I connect with Oskar as a kid.  I feel sorry for him.  He makes me laugh. He pisses me off.

And that’s probably what a good book should do.  Makes us think about it. Laugh at it. Hate it. Write about it.  But most of all, it makes us remember.  I may not be able to clearly tell anyone what this book is about by the time I finish reading it, but I will remember it.

And in the end, isn’t that what a good book or a good movie or a good person or a good memory deserves?

To be remembered.