This one is a no-brainer: I’ve tried to read this one repeatedly, fuelled by chocolate covered espresso beans, tea, latte, yerba mate, you name it, but no matter how many times I try to read it, my eyes begin to water and I am forced to stop before I either drop asleep or incur an insufferable headache.
I thought at first that it must be my fault, because so many people recommended the book to me and gushed about how it changed their lives, how I was a dead-ringer for the protagonist, only a girl… But after my fifth failed attempt, I think the fault lies not with me, but with the book. I speak of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which I secretly refer to as Extremely Dull & Incredibly Cloying.
For those of you unfamiliar, this book is about a boy, named Oskar, age 9, who is, from what I understand up to what I read, dealing with the loss of his father in the September 11 attacks through a puzzle game his father invented for him. It’s heavily implied in the text and in the media surrounding the book (and film adapted from it) that Oskar has Asperger Syndrome, which is why so many people recommended it to me, I suppose.
I’m just going to get this out of the way, since, without a doubt, I’ll get comments asking me about this: I do not think, in the sections of this book I read, that Oskar is an accurate or fair representation of the thought process of someone autistic. My autistic mind is like the Kuiper Belt: It consists of a variety of tiny, random, unattached fragments and chunks of trans-Neptunian objects, which are my different thoughts, musings, and opinions going through my brain. But among all these different bits and bobs there is a type of symmetry and order to it all, forming an organic, complex structure with its own logical order, even if you may not get the full impression of it at first. I do not get that from Oskar. In the pages I read, his mind isn’t what I would describe as chaotic, it felt more like the author was deliberately kicking up dirt and mud so as to obscure the pattern by which Oskar’s mind worked, to give an impression of chaos, rather than the actual chaotic order I think of my autistic mind as being like.
What’s more irritating than the inaccuracy though, is how dull it made reading the book. I imagine that if I could make it through, I could find insights into how the narrator would feel Oskar copes with grief, loss, and sadness, which I think are valuable things to talk about, since so many people labour under the delusion that autistics don’t feel them. But I just couldn’t get past the sloppy, piss-of-thought prose of Oskar’s ramblings. I would almost say it’s the exact opposite of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time , but the fact is they are quite similar in that they both substitute a showing of an autistic person’s thought process with a muddled, mechanical showcase which doesn’t reflect reality and is more done for the sake of saying “see how different their minds work?” rather than understanding the thought process.
For these reasons, I couldn’t get past the first part. I’ll try again for a full read later to see if I change my mind and will write a review about it, but for now, it’s probably going to grow dusty on my bookshelf with the bookmark stuck in Chapter 3. It’s a shame that it induced such a headache in me, because I actually like Jonathan Safran Foer’s other works quite a bit, and think he has a talent for flourishes of creative language use, unique fleshed-out characters, and humour, like in Everything is Illuminated