A Response to Foer’s “What The?”

“What The?” is the first chapter of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which has recently been adapted to film. I have yet to read the book or watch the movie, but after reading this chapter, I want to do both.

As the first chapter of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, “What The?” successfully pulls me into wanting to read the whole book.

Foer does an excellent job establishing the narrative voice of his story right away. As a reader, I really got a sense of Oskar’s personality. I really wanted to continue reading in order to know more about this honest young kid who seems far too intelligent for his age, is constantly thinking up random inventions, and thinks his mom doesn’t love him and wishes he were the dead one instead of his father. What makes him wear only white clothing? What is his obsession with Stephen Hawking? Foer has created a narrator with intriguing quirks that peak the reader’s interest.

Foer’s first chapter provides the reader with a lot of background information but doesn’t explain everything – just enough to get to know the characters and their lives a bit while still provoking questions. The most obvious one is: What happened when Oskar answered his dad’s call? This, of course, is the cliff hanger that pushes the reader onto the next chapter. Other questions involve the narrator and his father’s Sunday Reconnaissance Expeditions and the relationship between the narrator and his mother, as I mentioned before.

I also found it nice that the phrase “What the?” was actually used a couple times throughout the chapter, and the narrator wasn’t the only one to say it. Not only is the title a line from the text, it serves as the reader’s initial reaction to the narrator – the first paragraph really had me wondering who this person was and why the heck he was thinking about teakettles and talking anuses. Something else I found interesting was the constant use of the words “incredibly” and “extremely.” Though I haven’t read the entire book, these adverbs in the first chapter make its title really fit.

Just from this excerpt of the novel, I can see that the narrator’s point of view will be used to touch upon serious and tragic issues while providing a somewhat lighter perspective – due to his personality and age – making me as a reader far more interested than I would be if the narrator were a serious adult.

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