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Writing has always been a way for authors to cope with tragedy. Erich Maria Remarque wrote All Quiet on the Western Front after serving in World War I. Elie Wiesel told his harrowing tale of surviving the Holocaust in Night. And in First Step 2 Forever, Justin Bieber wrote about the insufferable pain and tragedy that he… well, that his music has inflicted upon the world. (We haven't Shmooped that one… yet.)
After September 11, 2001, the citizens of New York and entire United States had to go through the seven stages of grief together. The unofficial eighth stage is making art, whether it be movies like United 93 or World Trade Center, or literature like Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the extremely anticipated follow-up novel to Jonathan Safran Foer's incredibly well-received first novel, Everything is Illuminated. It was published in 2005 when Foer was only twenty-eight years old. It's about a boy trying to make sense of his father's death on September 11. Two years after his father dies, nine-year-old Oskar Schell finds a key in his Dad's closet. He sets out on a quest to find the lock, hoping to reach some sort of closure over the tragic loss of his father.
Super-duper Earsplitting and Indubitably Adjacent (that's what we'd have called it) is more than just "that September 11th novel." It's about grief in general, and coping with any sort of tragedy. Oskar's grandparents both lived through the bombing of Dresden, Germany, during World War II. And his Mom is trying to figure out how to deal with the loss of her husband. All the major characters are suffering from the trauma of unimaginable loss.
The novel didn't quite receive the same level of critical acclaim that Foer's debut novel earned. The New York Times called it "contrived and improvisatory, schematic and haphazard" (source). But Laura Linney liked it. And it was made into a movie with big star power: Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. (Laura Linney must have been busy.)
We think it's extremely interesting and incredibly thought-provoking (even with all those adverbs and despite what the New York Times says). The only way for you to find out is to give it an extremely and incredibly close-read on your own. We'll help.
Some events just seem to define a generation's experience. The Great Depression and WWII shaped the lives of the Greatest Generation. The Kennedy assassination, the Civil Rights Era and the Vietnam War did that for the Baby Boomers. The World Trade Center attack was probably the most terrifying national catastrophe for the millenials. And even if you weren't old enough to remember the attacks themselves, you know how profoundly they changed so many things in your world. (Those security lines at airports…)
These were shared experiences, especially when television and the internet allowed people to see the same images, and hear endless analysis of what happened. And sometimes, it's just too much. It's easy for the numbers in any mass tragedy—almost 3,000 people killed on 9/11—to feel impersonal. It's easy to stop caring. But the author knew that each one of those people had a family, friends, a history. Each one had loved ones who grieved for them.
So why should you care? Well, Foer lets us know that tragedy can happen to anyone at any time. No one knows when their world might suddenly come crashing down. And his bottom line is this: appreciate the people you love and let them know it, so you won't look back with regrets. Obvious? Maybe. Corny? Definitely. It might seem morbid to think that you can lose anyone at any time, but it keeps you in the moment.
So give it a try. Let your friends know how much they mean to you, even if you think they already know. Give your annoying parents a break. Tell your math teacher how much you appreciate her devoting her life to the most boring subject ever. (Sorry, we meant most challenging subject.) Write a fan letter. Tweet a shout-out. When you win an Oscar, be sure to thank everyone. Because you never know.
Two Books in One
While we wait for "Four by Foer" you can get his two novels in one volume to tide you over.
Penguins, and other Birds
Get a look at the UK cover featuring a boy and some birds (no penguins).
Extremely Sandra and Incredibly Tom
The official website for the 2011 film, starring newcomer Thomas Horn as Oskar, Tom Hanks as Dad, and Sandra Bullock as Mom. (What, no Meg Ryan?)
Extremely Treacly and Incredibly Pretentious
In case you couldn't tell by that headline, the Rotten Tomatoes consensus on the film wasn't exactly incredibly glowing.
Good Morning, Jonathan
The Morning News interviewed Jonathan Safran Foer in 2005, letting us know that we had been pronouncing his name wrong for years.
Going the "Distance"
Isn't it appropriate that a magazine named Guernica interviewed the man who wrote a book about 9/11?
The official press release is an information cornucopia and an interview all in one.
Foer suggests some smart readers might find more in his book than he intended. Are you up to the challenge?
A Story About Loss
Foer puts his book into his own words… again… in this brief interview.
Judging Books by their Covers
JSF says that he used to read books based on their cover. Would you have picked EL&IC based on cover alone?
Everyone loves Everything is Illuminated. In this video, JSF tries to get people to love Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, too.
More Rotten Tomatoes
David Edelstein is extremely loud when he says the movie is "incredibly manipulative."
Alan Cheuse also calls Jonathan Safran Foer a Boy Wonder. Does this mean he'll be in the next Batman movie?
Need to Borough a Map?
Not from NYC? Here's how to navigate the five boroughs like Oskar.
View from the Top
Here's the view from the Empire State Building's Observation deck.