So, with all the bru-ha over Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, I thought I’d give it a try. There are times I regret my decision to read best-sellers as market research and this is one of those times. On a normal day, I wouldn’t pick up a book proclaiming to be a funny and moving tale of emotional recovery by a child after losing his father to September 11th, but so many people had fallen in love with Foer, and I found a free copy, so I figured I’d read it…I made a mistake.
One of my professors, Maria Flook, once went on a rant about child narrators, including chastising the offending student on their voice and content before segueing into a generalized rant about how most people when they use child narrators fall into one of two traps: the voice of the child is way too mature or there is no content worthy of writing about because all most children think about is puppies and bubbles. She used more profanity, but that’s the general idea. Safran fell into the first trap.
He focused on a very heavy topic, and he failed to have his child narrator come across as a child. His main character is a 9-year-old who speaks like a 40 year old and whose mother knowingly lets him traipse about New York City mostly unaccompanied to try and find the person with the last name of Black who might know something about a key his father left behind. He’s looking for some kind of closure and resolution, needless to say, he doesn’t quite find what he’s looking for.
But beyond my qualms with the narrator (and they were large; they pulled me hard out of my suspended disbelief frequently) I also found myself skipping over parts that were apparently letters written by his grandparents. However, those I managed to struggle through added nothing to the story and were simply a disjointed distraction. Major looming questions they pose (“Why won’t the grandfather talk?”) are never satisfactorily answered and they are so intentionally obfuscating that I found them simply frustrating. So, by half way through the book I just started skipping them because i just wanted to know whether the boy ever found the right Black.
And the ending, can we talk about that? *SPOILERS* It turns out the Black he was looking for was the husband of a woman he talked to on like the first day of his search, but he didn’t know it was him because he didn’t listen to the phone messages for several month and his mother didn’t tell him. (Boy, do I have some serious issues with the pasteboard character that is his mother.) And it had nothing to do with his father beyond the fact that his father had accidentally acquired it. End of story. And he doesn’t even go to see what was in the security box it unlocked. Serious, serious let down. Nothing was resolved, the entire novel felt like a wasted enterprise.
Anyway…the one thing I did find interesting about the novel– since I do try and find a redeeming feature in everything I read–was the scrapbook “Things that happened to me” that the boy puts together. We get pictures sporadically through the book that the kid puts in there (which half the time never came close to happening to him, but were simply symbolic of something…I’m hoping). I found it a tasteful little addition that worked as a buffer against all the dreck you had to slog through.