Am I allowed to say bad things about a book about 9/11? Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close isn’t actually about that ‘Worst Day,’ as 12-year-old narrator Oskar refers to it. Rather, the story is simultaneously about the aftermath of 9/11 and what came before.
I adored the beginning of the book, and laughed out loud at Oskar’s internal monologue.
What about a teakettle? What if the spout opened and closed when the steam came out, so it would become a mouth, and it could whistle pretty melodies, or do Shakespeare, or just crack up with me? I could invent a teakettle that reads in Dad’s voice, so I could fall asleep, or maybe a set of kettles that sings the chorus of “Yellow Submarine,” which is a song by the Beatles, who I love, because entomology is one of my raisons d’être, which is a French expression that I know. *
Then the author began to weave in the story of Oskar’s grandmother and grandfather, survivors of the Dresden bombings, and slowly began to lose my attention. Oskar’s grandfather doesn’t speak, and so has ‘yes’ and ‘no’ tattooed on his hands.
I haven’t always been silent, I used to talk and talk and talk and talk, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, the silence overtook me like a cancer, it was one of my first meals in America, I tried to tell the waiter, “The way you just handed me that knife, that reminds me of—” but I couldn’t finish the sentence, her name wouldn’t come … **
… I went to a tattoo parlor and had YES written onto the palm of my left hand, and NO onto my right palm, what can I say, it hasn’t made life wonderful, it’s made life possible, when I rub my hands against each other in the middle of winter I am warming myself with the friction of YES and NO, when I clap my hands I am showing my appreciation through the uniting and parting of YES and NO, I signify “book” by peeling open my clapped hands, every book, for me, is the balance of YES and NO, even this one, my last one, especially this one. ***
Oskar’s grandmother has ‘crummy eyes’. Maybe she’s going blind? Maybe not. I don’t like meandering, stream of consciousness writing. It’s enough that I have to deal with it inside my own head.
Parts of the story are deeply affecting, particularly Oskar’s memories of and love for his father. I love that the author includes pictures – photos of the 9/11 falling man are heart stopping.
I can’t seem to focus my response to this book. It wasn’t the 9/11 story I was dreading. It was simultaneously less and more than I expected. Other reviews call it ‘quirky,’ which isn’t an unfair description, but it’s never quirky in a precious way. Go read it.