What happens in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?
Oskar Schell is a clever, precocious nine-year-old whose father was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. Before he died, Oskar's father left five voicemails for his family, but Oskar hides them from his mother. His family holds a symbolic funeral, in which they bury an empty casket.
- Oskar's family is grief-stricken over the loss. Oskar's mother withdraws, and Oskar starts abusing himself, hoping the bruises will distract him from his emotional pain.
- When Oskar accidentally breaks his father's vase, he finds a key in an envelope labeled "Black." Oskar goes on a quest to find this person named Black, only to discover that the key has nothing to do with his father.
- Oskar's grandmother, meanwhile, has taken in a "renter," who turns out to be Oskar's grandfather. Oskar's grandparents have been separated for thirty years, but after the funeral Oskar's grandfather decided to come back to his family.
Through the eyes of an incredibly precocious and extremely funny nine-year-old narrator, Jonathan Safran Foer tells a story of the effects of death on Oskar Schell and his family. Oskar's father was killed in the Twin Towers terrorist attack. Oskar's grandparents witnessed similar terrorists' attacks during World War II. The consequences of these horrid deaths have marked the psyches of the main characters in Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in different, but equally painful ways.
Examples of how the characters in this story react to their individual, psychological pain include Oskar's grandfather, who refuses to speak. He also will not allow himself to love again. Meanwhile, Oskar, who definitely has no problem talking, keeps secrets—like his self-inflicted bruises that help to distract him from his emotional pain. Oskar's grandmother tries in vain to open up the heart of her husband. Only after Oskar's father is killed in the World Trade Center attacks does his grandfather show any signs of wanting to love. But is it too late? Oskar's mother is harder to understand. She appears to have withdrawn into herself, leaving Oskar to fend for himself. But then, how does she seem to know about everything that Oskar thought he had concealed from her?
Foer has an incredible sense of humor in his writing, especially enjoyable through the thoughts and youthful conclusions of his nine-year-old protagonist . But all the humor in the world cannot camouflage the excruciating confusion and torment that Oskar must go through. It is more than the loss of his father, who was also Oskar's best friend, although that in and of itself is a huge challenge. But in Oskar's way of thinking, he cannot get over his father's death until he knows the exact details of how his father died. Did he die trying to save others? Did he burn to death? Or was he the man whose image was caught jumping out of one of the windows? Oskar and his father loved solving mysteries together. But this is one mystery that...
(The entire section is 1,502 words.)