Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Reading Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Incredibly close to one of my favorite posters, by
Nikki McClure.
Posted by Melissa Baumgart
I just finished reading Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.  The tears are still wet on my face.  It is a heartbreaking and tender book.  While not always tender, for there are details that stun the mind with pain (if you can even barely let yourself imagine it happening to you or someone you love), the perspective is tender.  And how could it not be, from the eyes of a 9 year old?  An inquisitive, brilliant and creative, thought-full little boy.

The book takes you to many places, which for me, can be a bit confusing as a reader.  I got mad a number of times when I didn't know who was speaking, because the first person tense changes character so often.  But, as I eased into each change and let go of my control over who I was listening to, I fell in love with each and every person in the book.  It's funny though, for as many of those first person changes occurred and as many characters that there were in the book, I would still maintain the book is from the perspective of the little boy, Oskar.

I loved each person in the book because they were all so real.  Sometimes they did things you didn't want them to, and that made them all the more realistic.  Sometimes they didn't do things you really wanted them to.  They were utterly human, trying to run away from pain and all the while, constantly, blindly, running back into pain's open arms.  It seems to always be waiting.  Patiently.  With confidence that you will return.

All that pain and suffering can be depressing.  Or it can be life-affirming.  To witness another's struggle, and feel like you were able to hold that space for them to experience life's pain to the fullest.  To witness the insights and motives and also see... Well, I don't want to ruin it for those of you that are going to read the book.  And you HAVE to read it.  You just have to, it was that good.

It was written so skillfully that it brought me into the lives of the characters, so much so that I felt like I truly did witness their pain.  As I held the plain black covered book in my hands, I also held space for their tears to openly flow, even if they never ended.  I would be there for them.  I think I needed to remind myself at times that these people are fictional, made-up, not real.  Kudos to Jonathan Safran Foer for a job well done.   Brilliant writing.  

One of the characters, in a moment of seamless stream-of-consciousness thoughts, says, "When I looked at you, my life made sense.  Even the bad things made sense.  They were necessary to make you possible."

That's life.

Those are what I like to call "silver lining moments", when from a timely distance you can see why bad things happened.  Although painful at the time, I always hope to be able to look back and know...they were necessary for something greater than myself.

Back to here and now, and my non-fiction life, as it continues on.  Who knows what it will bring.  Yesterday, as I was driving to school on I-5, there was a terrible accident.  A semi-truck overturned and I heard that 8 people were trapped upside down in a car.  I thought about how you never know what your life will bring.  You could be happily, or unhappily for that matter, driving down the interstate, and then BAM.  Crash.  Everything is changed.  You're watching people die next to you, or wondering how long it will take to be rescued from a car that could explode at any moment.  

(Turns out, thankfully, no one died and the 8 people trapped story was untrue.  But it still made me think.)

I made me think of this book.  And life.  And being human.  All these thoughts may change us for a day or an hour, bringing us closer to prioritizing what really matters.  But then the everyday creeps in and have to go to work and pay bills and do dishes, and our habits and patterns of how we avoid pain come flooding back in.

That's life.

And now off to my everyday.  Today brings statistics class and a matinee of "The Descendants."  Maybe after my next book I'll go see "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" on the big screen.  I have to decide within the next two hours what that next book will be.  And get started reading.



sophanne said...

What a great post.

Melissa Baumgart said...

Thank you. This book really does have me thinking in a deep way. It may be hard to switch gears into a new book so quickly. I know I certainly had a hard time picking one.
Hope you enjoy reading it yourself!