I have no clear memory of the 9/11 attacks; not anything personal, anyway. Mine was the story of surprisingly many young New Yorkers at the time – one where we were thrust into a hushed and hyped world, called in one by one to our school’s main office to be picked up by our parents. I cannot claim that I have witnessed the towers crumble or the blankets of dust swallow the city whole. Nor can I say that I sprinted down several flights of stairs for my life. I can only pull out inspiration from fake memories, which I will not do. As such, this blog entry won’t be as tear-jerking or heartstring-puling as the others.
When I think back to it, there was no real reason for us to be taken home if our school was nowhere near ground zero. It was irrationality brought by fear that won over. This same irrationality plagues the protagonist of Jonathan Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Oskar Schells.
The novel starts off perhaps a year after the 9/11 attacks, which young Oskar’s father unfortunately does not get out of alive. Then comes a string of events: the boy finds a key within an envelope addressed to “Black”, takes it as his responsibility to return said key to said “Black”, and plans to do all this by walking through the streets of New York alone and ringing every door bell belonging to a family with last name Black. This quest might as well have been impossible to complete, yet the boy perseveres because he is afraid. He is afraid of forgetting about his father, that somehow all of the love and wonderful memories between them would just disappear if he did not return the key. To us the readers this seems very much an act of impracticality, but in Oskar’s mind, it’s absolutely necessary.
And the boy continues his journey with the solemnity of a widow at her deceased husband’s funeral. Never in his thoughts is the reality that there are many dangers in the city, including and not limited to muggings and abductions. He treks on, almost in a trance-like obsession to return the key. Luckily in the end, this romanticism does not cost Oskar anything other than the realization that a single action can be the difference between life or death.