Category Archives: Trauma Studies

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (02 December 2010)

****SPOILER WARNING*****READ NO FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE NOVEL AND PLAN TO READ IT.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is like no other book I have read to date. Foer transcends the boundaries of his medium by including unusual narrative devices such as images, blank pages, different type sets, absence of punctuation, circling of words in red, codes, items from the story such as business cards and receipts, and an ingenius, 12-page flip book at the end of the book. Although some critics would disagree, I think all these visual stimuli contribute to what is written in the book and in some instances they substitue what cannot be said or expressed in words. Foer’s literary artistry and ingenuity is one of the many reasons why I adore this book and why I struggled to put it down once I commenced reading it. I read this book from cover to cover in one sitting, which is something I normally don’t do, and as I approached the end of the book I didn’t want it to end because I had become fully sutured into Oskar Schell’s world.

Oskar Schell is a unique, humorous and gifted nine year old boy from New York whose father, Thomas Schell, died in the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The treasure hunt expedition game that Oskar and his Dad used to play when he was alive continues after his death as Oskar embarks on a mission to find the lock for the key he discovers inside a vase, sealed in an envelope with the word ‘Black’ written on it. Oskar is convenced his father has left him this clue to solve, but in reality this game is a figement of Oskar’s infantile imagination, which becomes a journey of self-exploration and discovery as he attempts to accept and come to terms with the trauma of lossing his father. This game his imagination constructs becomes a means of transcending grief and maintaining a connection with his father, whose death haunts his consciousness. Oskar keeps a journal and the pictures he takes and adds to it are included in the novel.

However, the trauma of 9/11 and Thomas Schell’s death is not the only trama in the novel. Oskar’s grandparents are both survivors of the Dresden Bombings of WWII and their love affair is reunited when they meet in America. These two alternate story lines run parallel throughout the course of the novel but they eventually merge at the end, with a startling revelation that Oskar’s grandfather hadn’t left and had been present in his grandmother’s house all along. Oskar’s grandfather’s withdrawal from the world, and his psychosomatic speech loss are symptoms of his trauma. His inability to communicate implies the inability to express trauma which is a contentious topic among critics of trauma fiction.

Some scholars of trauma studies consider trauma fiction to be a paradox because if the experience of a traumatic event cannot be expressed in language or representation then how can it be narrativized in fiction? (Whitehead 3). This is where critics of Foer’s novel come down hardest on his work. However, Anne Whitehead in her book, Trauma Fiction contends that trauma theory provides new methods of conceptualizing trauma, and suggests that the focus is shifted to why the past is remembered.

Consequently, Trauma studies is an area of research I am interested in. I think Foer conveys Oskar and his grandparents’ trauma well through the utilisation of narrative devices like the few pages of code that represent what Oskar’s grandfather has dialed into the phone dial in an attempt to comunicate without language. The difficulties with representing trauma with language is suggested by the blank pages in the novel that Oskar’s grandmother creates by forgetting to put the typewriter ribbon in before she commences typing. As well as that, I think Foer’s amalgamation of humour and sadness counterbalances each other to create an emotional engaging novel that takes the reader on a memorable, roller coster journey with a unexpected, cathartic climax.

Works Cited

Whitehead, Anne. Trauma Fiction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2004. Print.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBkvw6LGxSo.%5D


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