1/9/10

'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' by Jonathan Safran Maier

First off, thanks to my cousin Amanda for constantly recommending this book to me since it's release and to my wife for finally whacking me over the head to actually read it.  You were both instrumental to my resignation to read this book.  I'm ever-so-glad that you did.

This was a devastating book.  It's very good, don't get me wrong; just the first of it's kind for me.  The story deals with a nine year old boy who lost his father in the September 11th, 2001 attacks and his subsequent quest to unravel a mystery that he feels is the 'key' to staying close to the memories of his father.  It also deals with similarities and parallels his grandparents faced during World War II.

This is the first piece of fiction I've read or seen that uses 9/11 as a backdrop.  It's not tacky, it's not politicized.  It's something that happened, and it changed things.  For everyone.  It brought back memories of those first unbelievable moments as I watched the horror unfold live on television.  It reminded me of the endless walls of 'Missing' posters in New York and the outpouring of grief, sadness, and support from the rest of the nation.  It also reminded me of the innocence of childhood and how an event of this magnitude must have ripped so many children from that innocence prematurely.

The passages in this book about the young boy's memories of his father tore me to pieces.  Granted, I'm a sucker for Father/Son relationships in media (especially movies, like Field of Dreams or Big Fish) and I fully expected some personal emotional instability.  It's the little things that reminded me of my childhood and the details of my father.

The stubble of his beard.  The sound of his briefcase latches opening.  My careful footsteps upstairs to bring him his coffee and tea in the morning.  His Tarzan yell from the living room.  Watching him practice his golf swing in the back yard.  Going with him to store inventories late at night.  The smell of the leather of his chair at the office.  The iron grip of his handshake.

After I finished the book, I sat for a long time and considered.  The book deals a lot with themes about losing loved ones; some to death, others to separation.  I was reminded of the ever-popular theme in Hollywood of the "Life Changing Event" and how characters responded and become 'better' people.  I thought to myself, "Why can't we appreciation people when they are STILL HERE?  Where is it written that we have to learn life's lessons when it is Too Late(tm)?"  Fact is, we don't have to.

It's very easy to take life for granted.  My time abroad has taught me many lessons, but the ones I learned the hardest are the ones I cannot do anything about, like conversations I would like to have with my grandfathers, who have both passed on.  Not to some sudden disaster or unexpected circumstance, but to long standing medical issues.  I had plenty of time to grow closer to them.  I failed.

I heartily recommend the book, as it has some fantastic life lessons and is written EXTREMELY well.  It'll break your heart, but in a way that will get you to re-evaluate your relationships and take stock of what is important.  It will also transport you to a time of uncertainty and nationwide attention, albeit through much younger eyes.
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