Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Review: It’s all a facade


Jonathan Safran Foer’s sophomore attempt is filled with the same chicanery that littered his first novel, but this time sentimentality is poured on with a ladle. Oskar Schell, an overeducated nine year old from Manhattan, narrates as he tries to locate a lock matching a key he found after his father’s death during the 9/11 attacks. Oskar hopes that in finding the lock his father’s death will make clearer sense to him. Foer extends beyond literary conceits and uses images to tell Oskar’s journey through New York’s boroughs.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close feels crowded. Foer tries to manipulate every word of the text so much so that the whole piece becomes contrived and false. It takes too much time to sift through Foer’s tricks, distracting the reader from the story. Instead of growing with Oskar we are forced to witness his journey from a removed point-of-view.

Throughout the novel Foer drops in images of locks, single worded pages, and other distractions that don’t give a greater sense to his story. The entire novel ends with a flip book which attempts to bring the entire piece full circle, but it just feels tacked on. I would like to see a sample of his writing that is completely devoid of any post-modernist tricks; I wonder what the sentences would look like.

My difficulty with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is that Foer relies too much on gimmickry and not enough on real characters. Oskar is intriguing with his anecdotes and perspective, but he doesn’t feel like a person. Oskar’s journey is too broad and meandering with no real resolution. The resolution Foer does provide seems watered down compared to the sprawling nature of the rest of the novel.

But if you liked Foer before you’ll probably enjoy Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. You’ve likely already read it. He is a polarizing author with an extremely devout fan-base to which I don’t subscribe. I’ve always felt a little cheated while reading his work and that opinion hasn’t changed. Instead of honesty we are presented with a rambling conglomeration of literary tricks and games with no substantial meaning.


Salvatore said…

The book sounds like a mess. It's unfortunate that writers steep to such 'tricks'. As if one couldn't handle the concept of a narrative any more. Yeah, I'll pass on this one.

Nihal Parthasarathi said…

I gotta say, at my first foray into everything is illuminated, i quickly became bored and abandoned it – still, I think i'm going to give it another go before writing it off completely – good to know that opening another book of his is not the way to give him another chance.