Jonathan Safran Foer
Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2005, English
ISBN: 9780395860212
On 3 book lists
Tom Geismar

Imaginative and touching.

Warren Lehrer

This book lives both on my top ten list of novels and as a very credible work of visual literature that broke through to a mass audience. The typography of this beautifully written book is used to distinguish the voices and emotional states of the three narrators: a nine-year-old boy devastated (in his own peculiar way) over the loss of his father on 9/11, and his two grandparents, also grieving over their loss (and a whole legacy of losses). In one climactic section, as the grandfather comes to realize—in a series of unparagraphed pages—that his son perished in a fiery hell, the interline spacing gets tighter and tighter, and the two towers of text on facing pages darken. This comes in stark contrast to an earlier section in which the grandfather is mute, marked by just a few words per page. And one of the most impactful endings I have ever read or seen in a novel (spoiler alert) is expressed only in pictures when the young Oskar Schell reverses the order of newspaper photos of a figure falling from one of the World Trade Towers. The man (perhaps Oskar’s father) rises up, defies gravity, reverses time, and undoes a tragedy, for a moment. Some notable literary critics (including one well-known novelist) have dismissed Foer’s typographic choices and use of images in this book as “gimmicks.”* (They also criticized the boy as being too smart for a nine-year-old, and the plot as being unrealistic.) Their loss. To me, this is a powerfully emotional yet joyfully playful book, and a fine example of typo/graphic form following the function of a text; not by being transparent and clean, but by being in tune with the characters’ inner rhythms and states of being.

*See Zoe Sadokierski’s word cloud analysis of the critical reviews of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in her excellent Ph.D. thesis on visual writing:

Billie Tsien

A reminder of what it feels like to believe in magic.

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