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Reader’s Den

Reader’s Den: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Week 3

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Now that you have read more of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (if not all of it), you may have noticed some of its quirky phrases (such as “heavy boots” and “feeling like a hundred dollars”). Part of my interest in reading new (for me) authors is noticing how they use language: what kind of sentence structure — long or short, simple or complex; what kind of words — familiar or out of the ordinary or a combination; lots of descriptive language or spare simplicity; how the individual characters express themselves and what that reveals about them; lots of dialogue between characters or lots of interior monologues.

Although I always read for plot first rather than language, it matters to me that the author is able to use language skillfully, especially if it involves unexpected word choices or turns of phrase, where I am pleasantly surprised by the phrasing or the rhythm and where the language choices add to the character and/or plot development. Obviously authors employ different styles in they way the use language. For example, Alice Munro’s detailed descriptions bring immediacy to the experience that transcends plot action. Charles Dickens’ relies more heavily on plot but his expertise is in creating memorable characters in word pictures. The emotional lyricism of Isabel Allende in The House of the Spirits and of Laura Esquivel in Like Water for Chocolate is very different from the Spartan prose of Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms (or any other Hemingway novel for that matter). I appreciate Jonathan Safran Foer's occasional (intentional) hiccups in EL&IC as much as I enjoy the velvet flow of words in Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. In a previous post I mentioned that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was adapted to film. All of the novels mentioned in this paragraph have also been adapted to film in case you want to compare the film version to the written word.

In EL&IC Foer’s words often describe the silences, the lack of words; sometimes he demonstrates the silence with blank or nearly blank pages. Foer has said that he writes about the miscommunication between characters and their inability to communicate deep emotions. Certainly Oskar’s grandfather is a prime example of communication issues. He describes losing his voice one word at a time, he communicates using a notebook, and the letters he wrote to the son he abandoned (Oskar’s father) were blank. Consider the other characters’ efforts at communication: his grandmother wrote her book on a tyewriter without a ribbon leaving only blank pages; his mother spends little time talking to Oskar as she deals with her own grief; Oskar looks for connection by sending letters to various celebrities (Stephen Hawking, Ringo Starr).

Of all of those characters, which one was most successful in communicating what he or she felt? Did he or she use words or actions or both to do it?

Which character did you like the most? Why? Which character was the most memorable? Is it the same character?

I mentioned last week that the film version basically ignored the subplot of the Dresden bombing experienced by both of his grandparents. In the book, how did you think the main plot and the subplot intertwined, if they did? What about the inclusion of the Japanese father’s experience in the bombing of Hiroshima? What point was Foer trying to make?

In week 4's post, we will wrap up the discussion of EL&IC and answer some of the questions from earlier posts. I enjoyed reading the book; I found the writing style made it a quick read. What surprised me was how its characters and the issues it dealt with remained with me, demanding my attention. Let me know if you experience the same (relatively harmless) haunting.

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