Sunday, February 05, 2012

Happy 8th Birthday, Dear Blog

Eight years ago today, I was bored with the Super Bowl and couldn't find a great book to get involved in, so I was at loose ends, when my husband suggested I start a blog. "Okay," I said, and used his PC to start Butterfly Books that afternoon.

I remember thinking how easy the interface was on Blogger, and how excited I was to share my passion for books and love of reading with others. I also felt it was fun to include author interviews and quotes from the library world, and I think I've done a fair job of keeping my blog fresh and interesting for these past eight years.

The book I just finished "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer is the book chosen for our Tuesday night book group at the Maple Valley Library, which I will be taking over starting in March, with this book.
I had a copy in one of my TBR stacks, so I thought I'd get a jump on it and read it before I had to discuss it. There's a movie out just this past week, I believe, based on this book, and they're making it look like a "feel good" family film. The book isn't really all that feel goodish, really, because the main character is a precocious 9 year old boy who lost his father in the World Trade Center terrorist bombings of 2001.

Unsurprisingly, Oskar is a bright, hyperactive kid who is angry and sad at the loss of his dad, but also having trouble forgiving his mother for surviving and wanting to move on with her life. His grief manifests itself in insomnia and a mind that creates "inventions" to keep Oskar from falling into depression and despair. One day he breaks a vase in his fathers closet, and discovers a key in an envelope that simply says "Black" on the outside. So Oskar makes it his mission to find out which "Black" of the thousands of people in New York with that surname that the key belongs to, so he can open whatever lock and hopefully gain insight into the life and thoughts of his departed dad.
Interwoven throughout the book are chapters about Oskar's bizarre grandparents, who survived the Dresden firebombing in Germany during WWII. Oskar's grandfather came away from them without the ability to speak, so he tattoos "yes" and "no" on either hand and writes one-word responses in a book to communicate with the outside world. He also leaves his wife, who is pregnant with Oskar's dad, Thomas, and moves back to Dresden, only to return to New York after the World Trade Center Twin Towers come down. There are lots of typed letters and pages with only one sentence on them in the book because of this secondary storyline/plot, which made the book harder for me to read. I also didn't understand a lot of the machinations of Oskar's grandfather and grandmother, because their lives were so convoluted, and the author made them seem like two really crazy old people whose lives don't make a lot of sense. It seemed to me that the author was trying to imitate Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" with his strange secondary characters and somewhat "stream of consciousness" prose within the secondary plot. In this, he failed, because only Vonnegut can do Vonnegut, and Safran Foer would have been wise to remember that some things cannot be duplicated or even paid 'homage' without sounding lame and confusing.
However, the primary storyline had a number of charming moments, with Oskar meeting a variety of interesting people and walking all 5 boroughs of New York with a friend, one Mr Black who hadn't left his apartment in years, but is persuaded to accompany Oskar on his quest. I liked Oskar, who came off as a younger Holden Caufield of the millennium, and still managed to charm the reader with his vulnerability and his desperate need to feel close to his father, even if only in memory. Unfortunately,Safran Foer leaves the reader hanging somewhat at the end, though we know about the key, we never know the contents of the box it opens, and we don't really find out what happens to Oskars grandparents. Things are inferred, but never completely finished, which is a crime in a book of this quality. I'd give it a B-, but only because Oskar was worth all the confusion. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants an inside look at the true legacy of 9/11.

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