Jonathan Safron Foer can break your heart while your clutching your sides with laughter. I fell in love with Everything Is Illuminated, which is easy when you’ve got a narrator like Alex with his seeing-eye bitch Sammy Davis Jr., Jr.
Foer manages to tap into the same vein and recreates all of the same glory of his first novel which breaching another gruesomely poignant topic. Oskar Schell, our nine-year-old narrator, is kind of a weird kid. He’s like a young Tom Wolfe, wearing only white, a vegan, devoted to collections, painfully direct in his questioning. His father was killed when the towers went down on 9/11, and Oskar has decided to cope with this by trying to find the lock for a key he finds in his father’s closet.
It’s a story about grief and loss and the love of parents, told through the eyes of Oskar, who might have even managed to surpass Alex for narrative charm. We also learn about Oskar’s lineage — through his Grandmother and the mute sculptor grandfather who loses all his ability to speak. I think the grandmother and grandfather portion of the novel might be the only weak part, but Foer capitalizes on it by weaving it in with Oskar’s adventures.
The story is beautiful, absolutely gorgeous and totally heartripping. There’s a portion, where Oskar’s father tells him the story of the Sixth Borough of New York, which might very well be the best thing I’ve read in a long time. The novel is packed with pictures from Oskar’s camera, as well as a particularly haunting image of one of the towers, and a body toppling from one of the higher floors. This novel came out just a few years after the attacks, and it handles the topic with a startling grace.
It’s also a furiously quick read that will stay with you. I can still feel parts of the novel resonating within me a few hours after I closed the cover. It’s a jarring story, but only because it’s delivered with such exquisitely awkward humor.