Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer I suppose it’s a characteristic of a good novel that leaves you thinking about it once you’ve set it down. For days afterward, I kept coming back to this book and trying to understand not so much what it was about, but my own reaction to it.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was a compulsive read. Obsessively so. The story of Oskar Schell, a precocious nine year old, wandering New York City coming to terms with his father’s death in the World Trade Center attack is a powerful premise. Grieving always is. Especially when imagined from the voice of a nine year old.

The quirks of Foer’s characters combined with his writings’ ornamentations (the flip book at the end, the scattered pictures, the untabbed chapters and colliding fonts to name a few) presume creativity. Images of a mute grandfather with “yes” and “no” tattooed on his palms, the separation of a home into “Something” and “Nothing” places and dangling revelations of Oskar’s father’s last few voice mail messages add a sense of ethereal dread as the story progresses,

But despite the evocative writing, the novel falls painfully short in the end. What seemed like quirks hinting at deeper scars in the beginning slowly appear nothing more than contrived affectations by the conclusion. The inclusion of photographs and drawings don’t convey the idea of “a picture is worth a thousand words” as much as “here’s a picture.” And, most frustrating, Oskar’s precociousness was a safety net. Complex thoughts and emotions could be discussed, but ultimately not really examined because he’s just a nine year old in the end. How can you really understand a nine year old? It seemed like an easy out to convey complex emotions without taking responsibility for how they may honestly play out.

Ambitious, clearly. And Foer undeniably has a gift for wordsmithing. But the visceral reaction I felt was more due to the subject matter than any of the literary devices employed by Foer. There are some topics that can be carried merely by the strength of the underlying premise. This is one of them. As for Foer’s other contributions, all the unusual peculiar traits of his characters get lost by the end because they don’t develop. He leaves them as oddities. Which unfortunately makes much of the story seem purposefully without purpose.