Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Indonesian edition’s cover

What actually happens inside the mind of a little child? We all, at some point, are also children with all the upbringing, naughtiness, misbehavior, laughter, cries, innocence. But as we grow up we no longer know what’s swirling inside the young minds. We lose track of what they particularly want to know, of how they feel about something, and, the most important yet the most forgotten by adults, of how they inwardly react to something that happens to them. Children are as complicated as adults to understand, but, unlike the case with grown-up people, it is not their duty to understand what happens to them, or around them. This premise is somehow related to Jonathan Safran Foer’s unique, unusual novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Acclaimed as “the most creative novelist”, Foer tells a curious story about a little child in the middle of the aftermath of 9/11 tragedy and his father’s death, in the most curious way any author could do.

After his father dies in the 9/11 tragedy, nine-year-old Oskar Schell tries to get close to everything about his father by tracing any token, any sign left by the old man at home. One day, he finds a key inside a blue vase on top of his father’s cupboard. What key is that? To which lock does it match? He wants to find it out, because he believes that the key will bring him closer to his father. On and on he tries to find the right keyhole to put the key in, on and on he fails. He walks the streets of New York all alone in search of any clue to the lock to which that key is fixed and what’s behind it. He comes to every house, every building, every person he can reach but comes to naught. He stubbornly believes that someone must have, or might have known his father. Although the truth, quite painfully, is no one knows him.

Foer invites us to look into the story of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close through the eyes of an innocent child who’s just lost his father. Swimming the head of a young person is already trying enough, and now we’re pulled forcefully into the state of mind of a troubled kid who is remotely yet strongly affected by a profound tragedy. Oskar only sees what is clearly visible to his naked eyes. He does not perceive, he does not understand, he does not know everything. The death of his beloved father only blurs his vision even more. He thinks that his mother doesn’t care about his father, for he never sees her cry. And he relies much on his grandmother because she is the only one who seems to show her grief and feeling of loss. He innocently thinks that anyone who doesn’t show their grief is not grieving. But this trait, this very nature of a child, has somehow triggered me to realize that what we see is not always what actually is.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is told from this particular blurred vision of a little kid, which in turn biases the point of view from which we see the story and the way we perceive it. But it’s very interesting to have a story told from other than an adult’s viewpoint, where we usually absorb its moral in a very subjective way. This way, we can experience not only something obviously different, but also the innocence of a child once more, which had already swept away from our grown-up minds perhaps years ago, and try to understand how a little kid sees and reacts to the death of their beloved parents and also the tragedy causing it. Oddly enough, that kind of storytelling doesn’t make the story too far-fetched to believe, because we read it through an innocent way of mind. Unfortunately, Foer chooses to arrange his narrative in a most odd way. It’s alternated with bewildering pictures, and wrecked by even more confusing, unparagraphed dialogues. It’s very dizzying to read such kind of narrative, however creative it might seem. And Foer also slips some letters into the main storyline, letters which I don’t know what the importance is. I may not the most perceptive reader there is, but this style of writing had definitely got me perplexed.

Nevertheless, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close truly has a tremendous story and an undeniably unique way to reveal itself. I may not agree with the author about it, and definitely not with whoever out there calling him “the most creative novelist” about what creative means, but I do like this book. Through this book, I experienced something more in reading a work of fiction, which is shamefully rare.

Rating: 3.5/5

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