February 10, 2012 by Heidi
Author: Jonathan Safron Foer [Website|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Published: March 7th, 2005 by Houghton Mifflin
Format: Kindle edition; 368 pages.
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Sometimes I feel guilty about giving a book a bad rating on GoodReads, and this was one of those times. I feel guilty because I do not think that this is a bad book whatsoever, and can see why many/most think it is a great book, but it was so glaringly not a good book for me. I made it only about 60% of the way through, and honestly only got that far because I felt like there was something wrong with me for not appreciating something so many people have fawned over (see also: why I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius which I found to be neither heartbreaking nor of staggering genius). So I want to say up front that while I will discuss why I couldn’t make it through this book, I in no way mean to dissuade others from reading it.Summary from GoodReads:
Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.
Oskar’s family is punctuated by such a deep sadness that it is impossible for the bulk of people to identify. Oskar has lost his father in 9/11, his grandfather lost the love of his life in the bombing of Dresdan, and down they fall. All of us experience intense losses in our lives, but even so it is hard to wrap my mind around so many atrocities. However, I feel like the author tries to counter this by creating an unrealistic New York City. Almost everyone Oskar encounters (with the exception of the children his age, who are cruel to the ‘weird’ kid) is incredibly patient and kind to such a quirky young man. That’s great, really, but I don’t think it’s realistic. Oskar is, by virtue of his being, very inquisitive, and also very knowledgeable about odd topics, and I just don’t see all of these people who meet him for the first time inviting him into their homes and sharing very personal stuff with him. Some of them, sure, but not as many as do. Also, his mother just seems like a bad mom. What mother lets their 10 year old autistic kid wander around NYC on their own on a regular basis? I’m also not sure that she’s acknowledging, let alone taking steps to assist his special needs. Yes, she takes him to a therapist, but the kid’s basically self mutilating (yeah, it’s not cutting, but bruising yourself is not far off), and she just wants some kind of wonder fix rather than something that requires her to put more time and attention into their relationship.
Overall, this was just one of those books where I felt like I had no one to root for, and that made it pretty painful for me to read. The writing really was beautiful, and the story is deeply powerful and probably touching to those who can immerse themselves, but I just couldn’t. Now excuse me while I go read something with wizards or fairies or some crap like that.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: I actually checked out both this book and Everything is Illuminated in 2007. I tried to read the latter, but couldn’t as it was too close to the movie (which was wonderful), and never got around to this one. Now that I finally have, I can respect him very much as a writer, but acknowledge that he’s probably not for me.
Recommended for: This is probably a good book club read, and I’d recommend it to people who enjoy adult contemporaries. Also people who enjoyed Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, as this is kind of the adult flip on that YA novel.
Real life repercussions of reading this book: Other than experiencing book guilt, I’ve more or less determined I will not be seeing the movie. Don’t let me stop you though, here’s the trailer: