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Literature / Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a 2005 novel by Jonathan Safran Foer (of Everything Is Illuminated fame). The book is written in multiple viewpoints. The majority is in the first person, and is told by Oskar, a 9-year-old boy. Between chapters are letters written by Oskar's paternal grandparents, detailing how they met and eventually separated.

The book is written in Anachronic Order, starting in the present and then going back two years detailing how the story got to that point. The story follows Oskar, whose father died during the 9/11 attacks. Oskar and his father used to play a game called "reconnaissance expedition", in which Oskar would be instructed to find a variety of objects. A year after his father's death, Oskar finds a key in an envelope which has the name "Black" written on it. He believes these are clues and are part of an expedition that his father was planning, and makes it his life's goal to discover the meaning behind it.

It has since been adapted into a 2011 film directed by Stephen Daldry, starring Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Max von Sydow and Thomas Horn as Oskar. It was nominated for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Von Sydow).

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: While many of Oskar's quirks remain in the movie (his tambourine playing, his ambiguous autism, etc.), some of his more annoying qualities were removed. His obsession with all things white (food and clothing), his pretentiousness, and the sadistic thoughts he has about his classmates are all absent in the film. Oskar also earns his happy ending, as opposed to the book, which ended on a decidedly more depressing note.
    • In addition, the story of Oskar's grandparents is completely left out, with his grandfather's voicelessness chalked up to witnessing a bombing killing his parents back in World War II.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Oskar imagines himself getting back at Jimmy Snyder during their performance of Hamlet for bullying him:
    Oskar: You are guilty of having abused those less strong than you: of making the lives of nerds like me and Toothpaste and The Minch almost impossible...And I've seen you litter, too.
  • Big Applesauce
  • Brick Joke:
    • Oskar promises to donate his pocket money towards diabetic research for lying to Abby Black. Chapters later, he receives a letter thanking him for the 50 cents he donated.
    • The taxi driver Oskar shortchanges. He's not mentioned again until he sends Oskar a letter thanking him for actually paying him back.
  • Broken Record: Oskar's private lexicon: the elliptical verbal tics of a Cloudcuckoolander, not Madness Mantras. Such as the "heavy boots" of grief slowing Oskar's progress, searching through the five remaining boroughs for the owner of the key. Or using "José!" to mean "You can't be serious!" (omitting "No way..." from the exclamation).
  • Creepy Child: Sometimes Oskar's behavior goes way beyond No Social Skills. He brought in a recording of a man recalling, in gory detail, the bombing of Hiroshima for his elementary school class to listen to, he dropped his cat off the school roof (he knew the cat would be fine, but his classmates sure didn't), and he fantasizes about beating some of his classmates to death.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Oskar's father is given the name Thomas Schell by Oskar's grandmother. Thomas Schell senior is dead only in the sense that he feels he cannot live, but is as good as dead due to his absence.
  • Disappeared Dad: Oskar's grandfather Thomas to his father, also named Thomas. His letters, which are all titled "Why I'm Not Where You Are", are addressed to Oskar's father, and in them the elder Thomas apologizes and explains why he wasn't in his son's life.
  • Grave Robbing: Oskar and the renter dig up Oskar's father's coffin. Subverted in that there's no corpse.
  • Meaningful Name: Schell is derived from a German word meaning 'noisy' or 'loud', an allusion to the title. However, it is also an ironic reference to Oskar's grandfather's inability to speak due to trauma, and Oskar's own problems in dealing with his grief.
  • Most Writers Are Adults: On one hand, it's easy to believe that Oskar's mannerisms are framed by adult author ideals. On the other, he's a child coping with a terribly traumatic event, and it's acknowledged in universe that this, coupled with his intelligence, makes it difficult for him to make friends (and in reality, there are plenty of children in who act like Oskar).
  • My Secret Pregnancy: One of the "rules" that Oskar's grandparents made was to never have children, but his grandmother felt she was losing him, so she made a pregnancy happen anyway and hid it with baggy clothing and pillows. Still didn't stop him from leaving.
  • Never Found the Body: Oskar's father's body was never found in the aftermath of 9/11. His funeral at the start bothers Oskar for the fact that there's no corpse in the coffin they're about to bury.
  • No Name Given: Oskar's mother and grandmother are never named, and he refers to them only in those terms.
  • No Social Skills:
    • Some of the games Oskar and his father played involved Oskar being forced to speak to people, because his father wanted Oskar to get better at it.
    • Despite having gained self-control with maturity, Oskar's father wasn't so different: as Mom (with mixed feelings) recalls, frequently.
  • Oscar Bait: A Double Subversion. Despite being critically drubbed upon release, it still somehow got a Best Picture nomination, almost purely for its subject material. Max von Sydow's nomination was almost entirely chalked up to the fact he was a Hollywood institution whose Oscar was sorely overdue, and he might have won had he not been up against the similarly overdue Christopher Plummer.
  • Present-Day Past: Movie only- A 2008-up Ford Escape with the "NYCTAXI" logo introduced in 2007 is prominent in the trailer's first street scene. Overlaps into Anachronism Stew - Oskar's dad films him on Super 8 rather than the then-common VHS-C.
  • Self-Harm: Oskar frequently bruised himself when he was upset.
  • Teasing Parent: Oskar's dad loved challenging him to games, some of them incredibly elaborate. The movie's plot is kicked off when Oskar finds something that he thinks is a clue to his father's final game, and sets out to solve the game.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The alternation between Oskar's plotline and that of his grandparents.
  • Unconventional Formatting: Used extensively, as described below (from a review in The New Yorker):
    Thomas Schell... always read with a red pen in hand, circling mistakes. He makes his mark on the pages... in the form of many red... encirclings in the text of one letter that, in April of 1978, happened, apparently, to reach him. The picto-/typographical antics don’t end there... the longest of the grandfather’s letters... exploits the possibilities of computerized typesetting by slowly squeezing, page by page, the lines and the words within the lines until the pages become illegible and, finally, almost as solidly black as an Ad Reinhardt canvas... Thomas tells of tapping out words by means of a telephone keypad, and gives us two and a half pages of numerals that an ideal reader (not me) could decipher. There are also three blank pages in the middle of the book, illustrating a mishap whereby Grandma settled at a typewriter to write the story of her life and did so to the tune of a thousand pages only to learn that there had been no ribbon in the machine.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Oskar's mother forbids him from using profanity, which leads to the phrases 'Dipshiitake', 'Fukuzawa you', and 'succotash my balzac'.
  • The Voiceless: Oskar's grandfather Thomas. After Anna's death, Thomas slowly loses the ability to say certain words, until eventually he can't say any.
  • You Remind Me of X: The only reason Oskar's grandparents got together is that his grandmother reminded Thomas of Anna, her sister and his first love.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: Oskar sometimes feels this way about his mother and even says it at one point, but he immediately regrets it.

Alternative Title(s): Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close