Sometimes, when you open a book recommended by others, you expect it to jump out at you and shout, “I’m here. Enjoy!”
This novel definitely doesn’t do that, but it’s probably one of the best books I’ve read in my lifetime. As a matter of fact, I gave up on the book in the first chapter, forced myself to start again and quit again in the second chapter. A fellow reader had to convince me to hang in for the third and fourth chapter, where it caught me by the scruff of the neck and hauled me inside.
In the beginning, Oskar, a nine-year-old gifted child who has recently lost his father, tends to ramble. He rambles about the books he’s read, what might happen if he farted badly in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, an amazing invention he’s created to solve a small first-world problem and, of course, his heavy boots. The boots are his code word for the depression he’s been experiencing due to the loss of his father.
This 2005 novel by Jonathan Safrain Foer begins when Oskar discovers a key in a vase in his father’s closet and sets off across New York City to find what it might unlock. Working through his grief, his mother’s and grandmother’s loss, Oskar travels through the city with a stranger he meets in his apartment building. Opening up to the stranger and many of those he meets on the quest, Oskar is able to uncover the guilt he feels for his father’s death on 9-11 in the World Trade Center.
Foer offers parallel narratives from Oskar’s grandfather and his grandmother, who have led interesting, but secret lives, now coming to light after their son’s death. The themes of trauma, mourning and family are woven between the different stories, pulling together with the common thread of their loss in the end. The effectiveness of the child as a narrator is especially startling and captures a parent’s soul easily, while leaving shards of inspiration and desperation.
Desperation for his loss and his brilliance, inspiration of his ability to manage the two coherently side-by-side. The boy’s voice is so mature and intelligent, it’s sometimes easy to forget he’s more than the sum of both parents.
One of my favorite parts of the novel, however, is the use of images and colored text within the pages to illustrate various parts of the story — from the different colors of pens Oskar’s father uses at the neighborhood stationery store to the juvenile animation created when he ripples through pages of drawings of a man leaping from the top of the WTC’s second tower, falling to his death.
In 2011, six years after the book’s launch and 10 years after the real 9-11 event, the book was made into a movie. As per usual in my estimation, the movie is a poor imitation of the book, so this time I watched it first, so as not to be disappointed. In the movie, two characters are combined into one and the end of the movie is entirely lopped off.
In summary, the beginning of the book is difficult and the end of the book is well worth the struggle. More than one member of the book club had to begin twice before discovering the magic with a hint of the plot revealed in advance. Loud & Close received 4.5 stars on both Amazon and Goodreads and is available in paperback, hard cover, e-book and audio at your local library and bookstores and online.