Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close Summary

Jonathan Safran Foer

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

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Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close Summary

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. Focusing on a nine-year-old boy named Oskar Schell who is implied to have Asperger’s Syndrome, the story takes place a year after the boy’s father was killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks. When Oskar discovers a mysterious key that belonged to his late father, he embarks on a search around New York to discover the truth. Exploring themes of loss, grief, and the historic impact of both 9/11 and the Holocaust, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was critically acclaimed albeit somewhat divisive, and was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film directed by Stephen Daldry and starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.

When the novel begins, it has been a year since Oskar’s father was killed, and Oskar suffers from depression, insomnia, and panic attacks. He is also prone to self-harm. One day, he finds a key in an envelope in a vase he accidentally breaks, with the word “Black” on the envelope. Oskar becomes obsessed with finding out about the key and calls every person in the phonebook with the last name Black. He befriends an older woman named Abby Black, but she has no information. As he continues to search the city, he meets an old man who he nicknames “the renter”. He had only heard of this man until now from his grandmother, who referred to him as the new tenant in her building. Unbeknownst to Oskar, the renter is actually his grandfather, who has his story told in a parallel narrative in the format of letters to his son, explaining his past in World War II, his first love who he lost in the Dresden fire-bombings, and his later marriage to Oskar’s grandmother. Letters from Oskar’s grandmother to Oskar are also included.

As Oskar continues his search for months, one day he finds  a phone call from Abby on the answering machine. The message was actually from right after he first talked to her, but he hasn’t touched the machine. It’s revealed that he keeps a message with his father’s last words on this machine as well, and as such he’s been afraid to touch it for fear of erasing it. Abby tells him that she wasn’t honest with him and that her ex-husband, William Black might be able to help. When Oskar seeks out William Black, he finds out that the key once belonged to William’s father. The key is to a self-deposit box that was sold to Oskar’s father at an estate sale. Realizing that the key doesn’t belong to him after all, he tells William the secret of the message he has kept on the machine all this home before giving him the key, and returns home dejected.

Oskar destroys everything he owns pertaining to the search, but then finds out that his mother actually knew about the search all along. She had been calling ahead all the people he contacted, and that is why they all greeted him kindly and gave him information. Despite her own pain, Oskar’s mother understood just how much he needed this to mean something, and she has been shadowing his mission the entire time, making sure it went smoothly for him. Although the pain of losing his father will never leave him and the key did not give him closure, Oskar ends the book with a better understanding of his mother, many new friends, and the chance to get to know the grandfather he never met before.

Jonathan Safran Foer is considered one of the most acclaimed authors of his generation. He rocketed to fame with the release of his 2002 novel Everything is Illuminated, a fictional version of his family history which also dealt with the collective trauma of the Holocaust and World War 2. It was adapted into a 2005 film starring Elijah Wood. His experimental art book, Tree of Codes, was released in 2010. In 2016, he released his most recent novel, Here I Am, centering around a complex series of events affecting a Jewish family in Washington DC. Safran Foer is also an animal rights activist and an occasional vegetarian, which inspired his first nonfiction work, Eating Animals. This critically acclaimed look at Safran Foer’s ethical qualms about the average human diet. The book has found a wide audience in vegetarian circles. He has been widely honored for his writing, including winning the Holtzbrinick Fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin, and being named to The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” list. Most of Safran Foer’s works are deeply influenced by his Jewish heritage and his family’s experiences in the Holocaust, and this led to his appointment to the UN Holocaust Memorial Council in 2013. He is currently a teacher of Creative Writing at New York University.