Over the past few weeks, the entire staff at work has been passing around a book and discussing it in the the staff room. It's been the subject of quite a few lively discussions. Everyone has an opinion. It's caused quite a stir.
Nope, not that book.
I'm talking about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safre Foer.
I was somewhat interested in the movie that came out last year with Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks. I never did get around to going, though. So when the book started circulating through the staff room a few weeks ago, I snatched it up. It wasn't what I expected it to be.
Truthfully, I have no idea what frickin' happened. I have a theory, but I'm not really sure.
Ten people at work read it, and we have 10 different interpretations of what happened.
On the surface, it's the story of a 9 year old boy who goes on a quest to find the meaning behind a key that he found in his father's closet after his death in the 9/11 tragedy. Woven in are two other seperate, yet related stories: his grandmother's story and his grandfather's story. Things get steadily stranger from there.
For instance, there are photographs interspersed with the text. At first, the pictures relate to what is happening in the plot. But then , they become almost randomly thrown in. A number of them appear repeatedly: doorknobs. Birds. Towers. A man jumping to his death from the World Trade Center. Are they supposed to be literal? Symbolic? A combination of both? Yes. Yes. And yes. I think.
Then there is a 3 page section where there aren't words, but numbers. A character who cannot speak has placed a phone call and it pushing the buttons on the phone to spell out words. I, stupidly, took this to be a challenge. A bit of a puzzle to solve. SO I sat down with pen, some paper, and my cell phone to translate. I got about 4 sentences in when it dissolved into inexplicable rubbish. Then I Googled it. To find that just about everyone got the same 4 sentences as me and couldn't get any more. (Also...there's a computer program that can do this translation for you) Some tenacious person out there also ran the program for both Russian and Polish words but came up with nothing. So...I guess we are supposed to take that to mean this character is a mystery? (I considered him a mystery as he is appears to have 3 different names as the book progresses and seems to be at times German, at times Polish, at times Jewish and other times not.)
The author does some really strange things with the font, as well.
All in all, I did find it to be very well written and emotionally true. Whether or not you can descipher the rest of the plot, the book is very clearly about grief and human nature. It's both heart wrenching and beautiful.
I would be interested in reading Jonathan Safre Foer's other books, Everything is Illuminated and Eating Animals . Maybe I'll be able to follow them a little more clearly.