Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Summary
Oskar Schell is a super-smart nine-year old grieving the loss of his father, Thomas, who was killed in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001. He's feeling depressed and anxious, and feels angry and distant towards his mother. He's been pretty traumatized by his Dad's death and is afraid of just about everything.
And he has a terrible secret. When he got home from school on September 11, he listened to voice messages his Dad left on the answering machine from the burning World Trade Center. His Dad then called one last time, but Oskar was too afraid to pick up, and the line went dead. He's been so guilty about that since it happened that he hid the answering machine and hasn't told anyone about the messages.
One day, Oskar finds a key inside a vase in his father's closet. Was the key a message from his father? The key's in a little envelope with the word Black on it. Oskar realizes this must be a name, and he decides to track down every person in New York City with the last name Black. (The Yellow Pages wishes he would just let his fingers do the walking but Oskar's scared of phones.)
None of the Blacks know anything about the key, but a Mr. Black (we never find out his first name), who's never left his apartment in 24 years, agrees to help Oskar on his search. He visits all the Blacks in all the boroughs. It takes him eight months.
Oskar goes to his Grandma's apartment and talks to her mysterious renter, who, unbeknownst to Oskar, is Oskar's Grandpa. Oskar's grandfather had abandoned his grandmother when she became pregnant with Oskar's Dad. He couldn't bear loving anyone again (he had lost everyone he loved in WWII) but wrote letters to his son throughout his life, never mailing them. He returned to the U.S. just before September 11 to reunite with his family, but too late to meet his son, Oskar's dad. Grandpa moves back in with Grandma and they resume a pretty weird relationship.
Oskar tells the renter the whole story about his Dad and the search. In the meantime, Oskar checks the phone and gets a message from Abby Black, the second Black he spoke with. It just so happens that her husband, William, knows what the key belongs to: his own dead dad's safe deposit box. Oskar's kind of disappointed that the key didn't have much to do with his own dad at all, and he returns the key to William.
Oskar finds out that all the Blacks he visited have known who he was the whole time, because his Mom found out about Oskar's quest and called them all ahead of time.
With his search ended in disappointment, Oskar decides to dig up his Dad's empty coffin and asks the renter for help. Together, they go to the cemetery. The renter brings two suitcases filled with all the unsent letters he wrote to his son and buries them in the coffin. This seems to be a turning point for Oskar, who's able to move forward a little from his grief and loss and reconnect with his mother.
Finally, in a long letter from Grandma to Oskar, we find out about how Grandpa and Grandma grew up in Dresden, Germany, and both survived the firebombing of the city, although neither of their families did. Grandma knew that Grandpa was in love with her sister, Anna, but she married him anyway. She accepts it when he comes back to her on September 11 because she doesn't want to be alone. When he tries to leave her again, they both go to live at the airport together. Yes, at the airport.
In the end, Oskar is back to square one. He hasn't come to any profound conclusions about his Dad. He has a series of photos of a man falling to his death from the World Trade Center. He puts them in reverse order, so when he flips them (making this The Saddest Flipbook Ever©) the man falls up back into the building, and Oskar can imagine his Dad is safe.
- This chapter kind of bounces all over the place as the narrator introduces us to himself and to his world.
- It begins with him dreaming up a bunch of wacky inventions. Here's a quick sample:
- A teakettle that whistles melodies
- Little microphones that broadcast everyone's heartbeat
- A birdseed shirt
- Training your own anus to talk (Who's narrating this book? Ace Ventura?)
- There's also some ruminating about jujitsu class and death. Lots and lots of death.
- Our narrator tells us about his first time in a limousine: with his mother, grandmother, and Gerald the limo driver.
- They're heading to Oskar's dad's funeral. Kind of. "It's not like we were actually burying him anyway" (1.9).
- Mom's a little irritated that the narrator, her son, gave the mailwoman a key to their apartment, and the narrator wonders if she still loves him. "I've never loved you more," (1.16) she says.
- The narrator alludes to the second time he was in a limo ("when the renter and I were on our way to dig up Dad's empty coffin" (1.19)) and then talks about a scavenger hunt through Central Park his Dad sent him on once.
- He's not sure why his Dad sent him out digging. He says that the more he found, the less he understood.
- From there, he tells us about all the letters he started sending after "the worst day" (1.33) (i.e. the day Dad died) to famous people, like Stephen Hawking, who replied with a form letter.
- Oskar (that's our narrator, not the Grouch) tells us about the last story his Dad told him (a story of New York's sixth borough) and that the last time he heard his Dad's voice was on the answering machine.
- The last time he called was 10:22:27.
Why I'm Not Where You Are – 5/21/63
- We must have a different narrator here, as this chapter is set in '63 (1963, we're assuming) and it's a letter starting with "To my unborn child."
- The narrator tells us about how he lost his speech, word by word, starting with the word "Anna."
- The last word he could say aloud was "I."
- To communicate, he had the words YES and NO tattooed on his palms. YES on the left, NO on the right.
- He carried a notebook around to write in if he needed to say more than YES or NO.
- By the end of the day, he'd usually run out of pages and have to flip back and recycle phrases from earlier in the day.
- He'd save the notebooks all over his apartment.
- Then, whoever's writing this letter tells us about "when I met your mother" (2.1). (Ted? Is that you?)
- She sits next to him at a bakery and talks about loss, canned tuna, and the weather.
- When she wonders why our narrator doesn't talk, he writes "I don't speak. I'm sorry" (2.1).
- She writes in his notebook "Please marry me" (2.1).
- He tries to protest, but she persists.
- He wonders about how he lost the love of his life, how he's hopeless and helpless, and he flips to a page in his notebook and puts her finger there: it says "Help."
- We're back to the narrator from chapter one, Oskar.
- He's been upset that his mom has been spending time with her new "friend," Ron, after Dad's death.
- Since Dad's death, Oskar has had trouble getting in elevators, crossing bridges, taking showers, and being around Arab people.
- One night, he decides to rummage around his Dad's closet, and he knocks over a blue vase and it breaks.
- He's both relieved that his mother didn't hear it, and upset that she's having a good time and not checking on him, so he gives himself a bruise.
- He does this whenever he feels angry, and he's covered in bruises.
- There's an envelope inside the vase and a key inside the envelope (and a little old lady who swallowed a spider to swallow a fly…) and Oskar wonders what it goes to.
- He tries it in all the locks in the apartment, but it's not for any of them.
- The next morning, he fakes sick to skip school and heads down to the locksmith's store to inquire about the key.
- Frazer, the locksmith, says it could be for a safe-deposit box, but he's not sure.
- Oskar does some quick mental calculation and concludes that there are 162 million locks in New York City. It must fit in one of them, right?
- Back at home, Oskar notices that the envelope the key was in says "Black" on it, but his Dad's handwriting looks weird, like he wrote it in a hurry.
- The next day, Oskar skips school again to go to the art supply store, because someone there must know about colors.
- The employee there thinks it's interesting that the person wrote "Black" in red pen. Maybe he's designing a brain training game
- Also, Black is capitalized, which means it's probably a name, not a color.
- Oskar flips through a little book next to the pen display, where people have tried out different pens and markers.
- He notices one of the pages has his Dad's name written on it: Thomas Schell.
- "His name was everywhere" (3.36). He's tested out pretty much every marker and pen in the store.
- The confusing thing is that Dad died over a year ago, and the pads of paper haven't been sitting around that long.
- Back at home, Oskar searches for people named Black in New York, and finds 472 people with that name.
- He writes a sneaky letter to his French teacher saying that Oskar won't go to French lessons, but they'll still pay him, and he signs his Mom's name.
- So Oskar decides to spend his weekends finding every Black.
- To try to get to sleep, he flips through his binder titled Stuff that Happened to Me, which is full of pictures:
- A wall of keys
- Stephen Hawking
- A paper airplane
- Two turtles getting it on
- Some gems
- A man falling from a building
- A picture of New York that looks like Central Park has been removed, leaving only white space
- A close-up of the man falling from the building
- The word "purple" written in green ink
- A tennis player
- Cave people
- An astronaut
- Unable to sleep, Oskar listens to the last messages his Dad left. He keeps the phone inside his closet.
- He didn't want his mother to hear those messages, so he bought a new phone and hid the old one.
- He radios his Grandma with a walkie-talkie and wonders why her mysterious renter is out running errands at 4 in the morning (even though he's not supposed to ask questions about her new renter).
- He tells Grandma that he misses his Dad, and he asks her why Grandpa wanted to leave.
- Grandma tells Oskar that he had to leave, but she doesn't say why.
- Oskar puts the key he found on the string around his neck, next to his apartment key, and tries to sleep.
- Looks like we have another narrator, and another letter, this one dated 12 September 2003 and addressed "Dear Oskar."
- Whoever's writing this letter is an old woman talking about her childhood.
- Once, she got a letter from a man in a Turkish Labor Camp, but most of the text has been removed by the censor.
- Our writer tells us that she had everyone she knew write her a letter: her father, a prisoner, her best friend, Mary.
- She ended up with over a hundred letters.
- Seven years later, two months after moving to America, she runs into a childhood friend, a man who used to date her sister, Anna.
- This is the silent man with YES and NO tattooed on his hands.
- Her story is a little different than his. (She leaves out the "Please marry me" part.)
- She leaves the café, and he gets her attention by following her and clapping his hands.
- He asks her, through a series of elaborate hand motions, to come to his apartment so that he can sculpt her.
- She agrees, and he works on the sculpture every day, which begins to look more and more like her sister, Anna.
- They end up making love one day, as our narrator stares at the sculpture of her sister.
- After, they go to the bakery where they met. This is when, our narrator says, she writes "Please marry me" in the notebook.
- They agree to never have children. That was the first of many rules in the marriage.
The Only Animal
- Oskar decides that he'll meet all the Blacks alphabetically, "from Aaron to Zyna" (5.4).
- It takes him three hours and forty-one minutes to walk to Queens, where Aaron Black lives, because he's afraid of public transportation. (He's going to have a heck of time getting to Azkaban to meet Sirius Black…)
- He makes it to Queens and rings the bell for A. Black's apartment.
- Oskar asks if the man knows Thomas Schell, and the man says "no" and gets him off the buzzer as quickly as possible.
- This upsets Oskar, and he cries for a bit, then rings the buzzer again.
- He tells Aaron Black that his Dad is dead and he wants to find where his key goes.
- Unfortunately, he can't show him the key. Aaron can't come down the stairs (he's hooked up to machines) and Oskar's too scared to go upstairs that high.
- Oskar goes to Abby Black's apartment, which is in the narrowest house in New York, according to a plaque on the door. (Maybe the guy from Up used to live there…)
- Abby's very beautiful and very sad. She tells Oskar that she's in the middle of something, but he lies to her, saying he's diabetic and needs sugar.
- She lets him in, and he makes a mental note to donate his allowance to diabetes research.
- In her apartment, Oskar looks at all the artwork in her apartment, like the one of the elephant that seems to be crying blood.
- They talk about elephants. Abby puts out a bowl of strawberries and begins to cry. Her husband is yelling, but she ignores him.
- She says that she doesn't know Thomas Schell, nor does she know what the key goes to.
- He invites her to come to his fall play, Hamlet, and asks to kiss her. (She says no.)
- Before he leaves, Oskar takes her picture (we get to see it, and she's facing away from the camera) and he gives her his business card.
- He goes to his Grandma's apartment. She's been crying, and she says that she was talking to the renter.
- He gives us some quick background on Grandma, like the time he made her panic by hiding from her, how he found the two-way radios in his Dad's stuff, and how she gave him a stamp collection, but he got mad because she tossed out the plate block.
- That night, Oskar can't sleep, so he goes into his Mom's room at 2 in the morning, and he asks her what Dad's storage facility was called, hoping it has the word "black" in it.
- It doesn't. Sad day.
Why I'm Not Where You
Are – 5/21/63
- In case you're not paying attention, this letter is the same date as the one from chapter 3, so it must be from Oskar's grandfather as well.
- This letter begins with a long stream-of-consciousness rambling about the rules of his marriage, with the phrase "I'm leaving her today" slyly tucked in about halfway down the page.
- He continues on about their rules, including their decision to designate some places in the apartment "Nothing Places."
- They created more and more rules and Nothing places until their apartment "was more Nothing than Something" (6.1).
- He writes that he's sitting in an airport, writing to his unborn son and thinking about his past in Dresden, when he met Anna (Oskar's grandmother's sister).
- Their fathers knew each other. After he saw Anna the first time, Grandpa walked to her house every day hoping to see her again, but she was never home.
- It turns out that she had been walking to his house the whole time, which was why he never saw her at home.
- Back in the present, Grandpa asks someone else the time. Then he thinks about how Grandma's at home writing her own life story on the typewriter.
- He convinced her to do it, despite her protests that her eyes are bad.
- She writes and writes and writes, then she shows Grandpa the pages.
- We get to see them too, three of them in the book, and they're blank.
- Man, her eyes are bad. Grandpa realizes that he never replaced the typewriter ribbon. She's been pouring out her life onto blank pages and didn't realize it.
- He can't bear to tell her this, so he just tells her the story is wonderful.
- Grandpa flashes back again to the first time he and Anna made love in her father's shed, which he'd converted into a library.
- Within earshot, her father and her father's friend, Simon Goldberg, are talking about the impending war.
- Back in the near present, Grandpa talks about reading Grandma's life story and pretending to laugh or pretending to cry.
- Then he writes that he's sorry for everything. For losing Anna. For leaving Grandma and his unborn child. For not being able to read who Grandma dedicated her life story to.
- He says, "I'll never be your father. […] I can't live. I've tried and I can't" (6.1).
- He says he'll rip the pages out of his book, put them in an envelope labeled "My Unborn Child" and never write another word again.
- We, as readers, see a few more pages of his notebook, each with one sentence on them.
- Oskar tells us about his production of Hamlet in which he plays Yorick. (Yes, the skull.)
- A lot of the Blacks he's met attend the show, and Grandma goes every time, crying and laughing at all the wrong parts.
- Oskar has a fantasy about telling off Jimmy Snyder, the jerk who plays Hamletand makes fun of Grandma, but instead he plays a good silent skull.
- Now it's time to go back to when Oskar met Abe Black.
- He rides a taxi to Coney Island, even though he can't afford it. He promises to send the driver the rest of the fare once he gets the money. (Kid, this ain't Cash Cab.)
- Abe convinces Oskar to ride the Cyclone with him, even though Oskar's scared, then he drives Oskar to Ada Black's apartment.
- Ada is "the 467th-richest person in the world" (7.49) but who's keeping score?
- Oskar tells Gail, the maid, that she looks very pretty, and Ada chastises him for making her feel uncomfortable. (The Help is another book altogether, Oskar.)
- She hasn't seen the key, so Oskar goes home.
- He gets a letter from the Diabetes Foundation thanking him for his fifty-cent donation. (Ha!)
- Surprisingly, the next Black lives in Oskar's building, in 6A.
- Mr. Black says he was born on January 1, 1900! And he ends every sentence with an exclamation point!
- He shows Oskar his biographical index, in which he has a card for everyone he thought he might need to know about, along with a one-word biography. "Tom Cruise: money! Elie Wiesel: war! Arnold Schwarzenegger: war! Martha Stewart: money!" (7.79-7.83).
- Oskar's disappointed to learn that Mr. Black doesn't have a card for his Dad, Thomas Schell.
- Mr. Black also has a really cool bed made out of tree parts.
- This tree used to trip up his wife, so Mr. Black cut it down and made a bed out of it.
- He's hammered a nail into the bed every morning since his wife died—eight thousand six hundred twenty-nine nails—and now it's insanely heavy, which explains the column in the middle of the floor downstairs. It's holding up the bed.
- Mr. Black shows Oskar that the bed's kind of magnetic at this point. A paper clip sticks to the bed, and the key around Oskar's neck floats a little bit off his chest.
- When Oskar finds out that Mr. Black hasn't left the house in twenty-four years, he asks him to assist with his search.
- The old man is full of secrets. He tells Oskar that his hearing aid is off and he's been reading his lips the whole time! More exclamation points!
- Oskar turns the hearing aids on, and just as he does, a flock of birds flies by the window extremely fast and incredibly close. That phrase almost sounds familiar…
- The hearing aid works, and being able to hear brings tears to Mr. Black's eyes.
- That night, Oskar and his Mom get into an argument before bed, and it ends with Oskar telling his Mom he wishes it was her who died instead of his Dad.
- Mom's hurt, needless to say, and Oskar falls asleep on the floor.
- He wakes up as his Mom is dressing him in his PJs, and he wonders why she doesn't say anything about all the bruises on his body…
- Grandma writes from the airport, but she says they aren't going anywhere. Delayed because of the polar vortex perhaps?
- She tells Oskar that she misses him already, then she transitions to talking about the early days of their marriage.
- He would often bring her own magazines so she could learn English expressions (LiLo, Kardashian, junk in the trunk, etc.).
- She tells us about her first Halloween. She didn't understand she was supposed to hand out candy, so she paid a young ghost some cash to go away.
- Also, a confession: she only pretended to type her life story by hitting the space bar over and over again because her life story was filled with spaces.
- She decides that she needs a child, despite this being against the first rule they set, and she tells Grandpa that she's pregnant.
- So he leaves her.
- She knows he's leaving because his suitcase is heavy, so she follows him to the airport.
- She convinces him to stay, so he goes home with her.
- But only for a day. He packs again, and leaves for the airport.
- This time, he doesn't come back.
- Grandma feels the baby kick, and she decides to release all the animals in the apartment, which must look like the boarding house from Babe: Pig in the City by this point.
- They leave and don't come back, just like her husband.
- As part of a show-and-tell, Oscar plays a recording of an interview in which a woman describes her daughter dying in her arms after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
- Oskar seems to be fascinated by the scientific aspect of the explosion, like the direction the heat traveled or the shadows cast by the explosion, instead of the fact that people's skin melted off.
- Some of the other kids in class make fun of him for being weird.
- Oskar gets teased a bit by Jimmy Snyder for the rest of the week, but it's back to Black on the weekend.
- Before he resumes the search he gets a letter from the taxi cab driver, thanking him for actually paying him back.
- Oskar picks up Mr. Black and they take the train to the Bronx, even though it's underground and really scary for Oskar.
- It turns out that Agnes Black isn't living in the apartment anymore, but they learn from the Spanish woman who now lives there that Agnes had been a waitress at Windows on the World, a restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center.
- Oskar wonders if she could have possibly served his Dad on the morning he died.
- He meets a couple more Blacks—Albert and Alice—but neither of them know about the key.
- Allen Black lives on Central Park South, and Oskar helps him set up an e-mail account.
- When Allen says "Good luck, Oskar" (9.53), Oskar can't remember telling the man his name…
- So, no luck finding the lock.
- On Tuesday Oskar has to see Dr. Fein, his therapist.
- Dr. Fein asks him questions about his emotions and they play a word association game.
- When Dr. Fein asks Oskar if he thinks any good can come from his father's death, Oskar yells, "No! Of course not, you fucking asshole!" (9.61).
- Actually, he just imagines saying that. He stuffs down his anger like he usually does.
- Oskar sits outside while his Mom talks to Dr. Fein privately, and he tries to listen through the door.
- We only see snippets of the conversation, and it's difficult to tell who's talking.
- The conversation ends with us being able to hear Oskar's mom say something about absolutely not hospitalizing her son. Apparently, Dr. Fein's really worried about Oskar hurting himself.
- That night, Oskar listens to another one of his Dad's messages (this one from 9:46 a.m.) and he waits for Saturday so he can search for the lock again.
Why I'm Not Where You
Are - 4/12/78
- This letter's dated almost fifteen years after the previous one, back in chapter 6.
- The weird thing about this one is that many words and phrases are circled in a red pen, as though your least favorite English teacher got hold of it first.
- Whoever did it is mostly circling misspellings ("actreses" and "bourgois" for example) but sometimes they just circle phrases ("To my child:," "Life is scarier than death" and "I love you, Your father").
- Also, there's a photo of doorknob smack in the middle of the chapter.
- Okay, with that out of the way, let's get to the meat of this sad letter.
- Grandpa's writing to his son (i.e., Oskar's father) saying that he writes him a letter every day.
- He writes about the night Anna told him she was pregnant. That was the last time he saw her.
- That night, bombs fell on Dresden. Everything was incinerated.
- He describes the bombing in gory detail, including how he had to kill all the animals that had escaped from the zoo.
- Although he looks everywhere for his parents and for Anna, he can't find them.
- He remembers that after Anna told him she was pregnant, her father then gave him a letter from Simon Goldberg, who was in a concentration camp.
- Goldberg tells Grandpa (whose name is also Thomas Schell) that he wishes him the best.
- Grandpa concludes the letter saying that he knows he won't be able to send this letter not matter how hard he tries. (But did he?)
The Sixth Borough
- Now it's time to hear Dad's story of the Sixth Borough, which Oskar referred to way back in Chapter 1.
- The Sixth Borough was an island separated from Manhattan by a thin body of water.
- But the island drifted farther and farther away each year.
- People tried to save it. They chained it down, but it seemed to want to go.
- People had to communicate over long lengths of string with people in the Sixth Borough.
- One day a boy had a girl tell him that she loved him over the string of a yo-yo, necklace, clothesline, harp, tea bag, and more all tied together.
- He sealed her love in a can, which he never opened.
- Central Park used to be part of the Sixth Borough, so the residents of Manhattan put hooks in it and pulled it into Manhattan.
- All the children of the Sixth Borough were sleeping in the park when it was moved, so they were pulled "into Manhattan and into adulthood" (11.34).
- This is absolutely true because there's a tree in Central Park with two names carved in it, and there's no record of them in the census.
- Conveniently, all the documents of the Sixth Borough also floated away.
- Now, the Sixth Borough floats frozen solid near Antarctica, the hole where the Park used to be framing the ocean below.
- After the story Oskar asks his Dad if any of the objects he dug up from Central Park might really be from the Sixth Borough.
- Dad simply shrugs his shoulders.
- Grandma writes about where she was when planes hit the World Trade Center.
- She sees it on the news, then Oskar's mother calls, wondering if she had heard from Thomas (Oskar's dad).
- Neither of them have, and they're worried.
- Grandma goes across the street to Oskar's apartment and finds Oskar under his bed.
- She nervously knits a scarf longer and longer until Oskar's mother comes home.
- Mom decides to hang posters of Oskar's dad all over the neighborhood.
- After Oskar falls asleep, Grandma turns on the TV and sees the footage over and over again. "Planes going into buildings. Bodies falling" (12.163-12.164) over and over and over.
- Grandma writes about the funeral, the one to bury Thomas's empty coffin, and how that night, she has a visitor: her husband has come home.
Alive and Alone
- After six and a half months, Mr. Black quits the search.
- Oskar goes to Grandma's apartment, but Grandma isn't there.
- It's the first time Oskar's been in her apartment without her. He snoops around, and finds a drawer full of empty envelopes, some addressed "to my unborn child" others "to my child."
- He hears a sound from the guest room and realizes it's the renter. He's real!
- He's a strange old man named Thomas (like Oskar's dad) who doesn't speak.
- (We know what Oskar doesn't: that this man is his grandfather.)
- Oskar decides to tell the man his whole story, from the beginning, starting with the broken vase…
- We learn about a few more Blacks – Fo Black, Georgia Black, Ray Black – but things get really interesting when we get to Ruth Black.
- Her address is the observation deck of the Empire State Building.
- Even though Oskar is super scared to go up that high, he does it.
- He enjoys the view through the binoculars, but has no idea who Ruth might be.
- As he and Mr. Black are about to leave, they notice a woman with a clipboard. Oskar asks her name. It's Ruth (hooray!) and she gives them a tour and some history about the Empire State Building.
- Mr. Black is smitten!
- Ruth confesses that she lives in the building, in a storage room, ever since her husband died.
- Mr. Black says that's fine. They can spend an afternoon up in the clouds.
- When they get home, Mr. Black says he's done searching with Oskar, and Oskar runs over to Grandma's apartment, bringing us back to where we were before the flashback.
- Then he decides to share one more thing with the renter: the messages his Dad left on the phone.
- He runs home and gets the phone and brings it back to play them.
- Oskar tells the renter that he just wants to know how his Dad died, so he can stop inventing how he died.
- He even wonders if his Dad might be the man in the video of a man falling from the building that he found online.
- Oskar takes a photo of the old man's hands—with the YES and NO tattoos—and goes back home.
- The renter gives him a note, asking him not to tell his grandmother that they met. Oskar agrees, and the old man says to throw pebbles at the window if he ever needs him.
- That night, Oskar has an idea: he wants to dig up his Dad's coffin.
Why I'm Not Where You Are – 9/11/03
- First, we see a few pages from Grandfather's notebook, which are things that he wrote to Oskar in the last chapter: "I don't speak, I'm sorry." "My name is Thomas." "I'm still sorry."
- He writes to the younger Thomas about how he's about to go with Oskar to dig up his empty coffin.
- But first, some backstory.
- Grandpa writes about giving a note to Grandma's doorman on 9/11/01 and how it took a while for her to agree to see him again.
- After a few days, she lets him into their guest room (a Nothing space, if you remember).
- Let's flash back again, to Grandpa getting off the plane.
- The customs agents ask him questions, but he can't verbally answer them.
- They also wonder why he's lugging around a suitcase full of papers.
- He explains that they're letters to his dead son, which he couldn't deliver.
- As soon as he gets out of the airport, he calls Grandma.
- Since he can't speak, he tries to communicate with her by pushing the buttons on the phone.
- He writes out about 4,000 numbers, but we don't speak that language (and neither does anyone else!).
- A few days later, the World Trade Center was attacked.
- Grandpa writes that on that day he lost everything for the second time.
- Grandpa reads the newspaper and finds an obituary for the son he never got to meet. (Tissues, please.)
- It's that day Grandpa goes to Grandma's apartment with a piece of paper that says "I'm sorry" and she lets him back into her life.
- Eventually, Grandma and Grandpa get naked and touch each other (like an X-rated version of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel).
- Later, Grandpa asks if he can see Oskar, but Grandma says no.
- He watches Oskar anyway, through the keyhole in his bedroom door.
- One day, Grandma tells Grandpa about Thomas, "Not our son, my son" (14.1), she emphasizes.
- She tells him that she gave him the one letter he ever sent (this must have been the one marked with red pen) when he wanted to find his own father.
- Grandpa says that Thomas found him once, pretending to be a journalist, but he didn't tell his father who he was, or vice versa.
- When Oskar starts his search for the Blacks, Grandpa follows him around and ends up talking to one of the Blacks on Staten Island (probably Georgia Black) who tells Grandpa that she just got off the phone with Oskar's mother. (Has she been following him too?)
- She wonders why Grandpa doesn't know about the key or the lock.
- All the time he's writing this part of the story, Grandpa's letters are getting closer and closer together on the page.
- On the way home, at a bookstore, Grandpa thinks he sees Simon Goldberg. The man hugs him and walks away.
- Grandpa writes that one time Mr. Black confronted him outside the Empire State Building, wondering why he'd been following them around.
- He tells him an abridged version of this confusing story. (Maybe that's why Mr. Black quit the search? There's only room for one old man following Oskar around in this town…)
- Finally, we're back to the point where Oskar meets Grandpa (thinking he's the renter. You got all that?).
- That night, Grandma and Grandpa have sex again, and later, Oskar throws pebbles at the window, meets Grandpa outside, and tells him about his idea to dig up the grave
- After that the text gets too close to read, until it's just one big black square.
A Simple Solution To
An Impossible Problem
- The day after Oskar and the renter dig up Dad's grave, Oskar goes to Mr. Black to tell him about it.
- But Mr. Black doesn't live there anymore. (He might have died, but let's pretend he didn't so we don't have to cry again.) People are taking all his stuff away.
- Oskar runs in and finds his card in the index of biographies: Oskar Schell: Son.
- He's sad that he didn't get to say goodbye.
- Oskar tells us that he kept looking after Mr. Black said goodbye.
- The last Black he visited was in Harlem. Oskar met Peter Black and his baby, Peter Black.
- Oskar wonders why he isn't named after his father.
- That evening, he notices a message on the phone: it's from Abby Black (the second Black) saying that she kind of lied to Oskar… she actually can help him with the key.
- Oskar takes the subway to her apartment (all by himself!) and she tells him that she left the message a long time ago, immediately after he left.
- But Oskar hadn't heard it because he's scared of the phone.
- Abby says that her husband can explain everything, but before she explains further, Oskar asks her why the message cut off in the middle.
- She explains that Oskar's mom answered, and Abby told her the whole story.
- Now everything makes sense: that's how it seemed like so many of the Blacks knew he was coming (and knew his name even though he hadn't told them).
- His mother knew about the search and had called everyone to tell them to expect a visit from Oskar.
- Oskar goes to Abby's husband's office. William Black tells Oskar that his own dad died, and the key goes to his safe-deposit box.
- William didn't find out about the key until after he sold the vase to Oskar's Dad as part of the estate sale.
- William spent a lot of time looking for Oskar's Dad (just like Oskar did) but never found him since he, you know, died on September 11.
- Oskar decides not to go with William to open the box, because that would be too confusing.
- Instead, he tells William something he'd never told anyone before: that his Dad called while Oskar was home, but Oskar was too scared to answer the phone.
- His Dad asked "are you there" (15.110) eleven times. Oskar could hear people in the background screaming and crying.
- The message cuts off at 10:24, the same time when the building came down.
- William Black gives Oskar a big hug, and Oskar asks if he forgives him for not telling anyone about the last phone call.
- He does, and Oskar gives him the key.
- That night, Oskar tells the renter that he wishes he hadn't found the box. And they finalize plans to dig up Dad's grave on the second anniversary of his death.
- Before Oskar goes up to his apartment, the renter gives him a letter. It's from Stephen Hawking.
- He thanks Oskar for all his letters and invites him to spend time with him in Cambridge for a few days.
- Grandma's writing about the day her husband showed up with his pants covered in dirt.
- He doesn't tell her where he's been (you know, to dig up their dead son's empty grave), instead saying he wants to get her some magazines, which is code for "I'm outta here again."
- He leaves, and she sits on the couch and waits… but for what?
- She remembers the day her dad died, trapped under a ceiling… but she can't remember his last words.
- Grandma writes a note and tapes it to the window, packs her typewriter, and she leaves. She gets in a cab and follows Grandpa to the international terminal of the airport.
- He tells her that they dug up the grave, and he buried all the letters he wrote, along with the key to her apartment.
- She suggests they stay at the airport forever "Not coming or going. Not something or nothing" (16.186-16.187), like the guy in that other Tom Hanks movie.
- And we guess they do stay there. Grandma says she's typing at a table as they drink coffee and tea together.
- Before she finished the letter, she remembers the last night she spent with her sister.
- She regrets never telling Anna how much she loved her. She believed it was unnecessary to say it, because there would be another night.
- But she tells Oskar that it's always necessary. She tells Oskar she loves him.
Beautiful and True
- Oskar kind of bonds with Ron over dinner when he finds out that Ron's wife and daughter died in a car accident.
- It turns out that Ron and Mom met in a grief support group, a group Oskar never even knew she went to.
- Later that night, Oskar and the renter, along with Gerald the limo driver, head to the cemetery to dig up Dad's grave.
- Gerald helps, because the young kid and the old man aren't really getting anywhere.
- Oskar opens the coffin and the renter fills it with his letters.
- At this point, Oskar kind of addresses us directly and says that he hadn't yet figured out that was his Grandpa, but he must have known on some level, right?
- Back at home, at 4:12 in the morning, Mom's on the couch, but she doesn't ask where Oskar's been.
- He asks if she's going to tuck him in, but she says she's going to stay in the living room.
- Oskar can't get to sleep, so he runs to Mom on the couch and starts crying.
- He promises he'll get better soon, that he'll be try to be normal and happy.
- Mom tells him that his Dad would have been very proud of him.
- She then confesses that she talked to Dad on the day he died. He lied to her, and told her he was safe, so that she wouldn't worry. Oskar cries and Mom carries him to bed.
- He tells her it's okay for her to fall in love again, but she says she never will.
- She tells Oskar she loves him and goes back into the living room.
- Oskar hears her crying through the wall.
- He pulls out his Stuff That Happened to Me binder and finds the photos he printed of the man falling from the building. The man he thinks might be his Dad.
- He reverses the pages and makes a little flipbook, so it looks like the man is falling up.
- What if time worked like that, Oskar wonders. If he could reverse time back back back to the day Dad told him the Sixth Borough story, beginning with "I love you" and ending with "Once upon a time" (17.161).
- Then his family would have been safe.
- The book ends in a little flipbook of images, of the man falling up up up and off the page.
- The End.