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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Good

January 28, 2012

On my lunch breaks at work, I usually head over to the book section of the store and examine the week’s new offerings and best sellers.  I like to look at the covers and read the synopses and imagine what kind of stories lie within.  One day in November, a particular book grabbed my attention and would not let go.  It drew me in to take a look every day, and when I checked Chip the Piggy Bank and discovered that he had managed to accumulate a small fortune in quarters and dimes, I knew exactly how to spend them.  I dumped the heavy jumble of coins into a Ziploc bag, took them with me to work, and spent the first five minutes of my lunch break the next day placing them one at a time into a little slot.  I generally try to keep from annoying strangers with my behavior in public, so I wasn’t terribly thrilled to be that guy with a giant bag of change at the self checkout, but I had a feeling that that book was worth the cost of a few exasperated glances.  That book is called Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and it was most definitely worth it.

In retrospect, buying a book during NaNoWriMo was not my best idea, but the story of precocious young Oskar Schell and his desperate search for a mysterious lock – and a way to make sense of his father’s tragic death – drew me in so quickly and completely that I had no trouble finding time between the writing and my everyday life to blaze through the pages.    When I read the final words, then flipped through the final pages (which, true to Jonathan Safran Foer’s fascinating style, did not contain the final words but a series of photographs that serve as the perfect ending), I just sat for a moment and nodded my head slowly, letting the incomparable feeling of finishing a truly great story wash over me.  Then another feeling hit me, a mixture of excitement, apprehension, and anticipation.  After all, as the front of my copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close clearly states, the book is “Now a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock!”

Whenever I hear that a book that I love is being adapted into a film, I get a little nervous.  On the one hand, I am a big fan of movies as a way of telling stories, and I could imagine many of my favorite scenes from the book translating quite powerfully to the screen.  On the other hand, however, movie adaptations of books are notorious for betraying the readers by truncating, altering, and butchering the story they know and love until it’s not even the same story anymore.

So I was holding out judgment until I knew more about the movie, and then I saw a trailer.  That clinched it.  For the next month or so, every time I saw the trailer or a poster or anyone mentioned the book or the movie, I would go into full geek-out mode and tell everyone who would listen how excited I was to see the movie and how they should go and read the book and then they could go see the movie, too (yes, in that order; watching the movie first is never acceptable and is in fact punishable by frequent and brutal Koosh ball ambushes).  Since my mom’s birthday and mine are so close together, and the movie opened the weekend before her birthday, we decided to go see it together yesterday.

I have not felt less betrayed by a book-to-movie adaptation since Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  There were a lot of bits and pieces from the book that the writers were forced to omit because of time constraints, of course, but at every turn the parts they chose to remove, the parts they chose to add, and the parts they chose to keep the same stayed so utterly true to the theme and tone of the story and the spirit of the characters that by the time the credits rolled I was grinning like a maniac and using all of my self control to suppress a cheer.  I’ve heard mixed reviews from critics, but most of the people who didn’t like it seem to me like the sort of people who didn’t bother to read the book and wouldn’t have liked it if they had.  If you enjoy an emotionally powerful, well-acted, profoundly thought-provoking (and yes, just a little bit sappy) movie with a killer soundtrack, I cannot recommend Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close highly enough.

Just remember to read the book first – I’ve got a stockpile of Koosh balls and I’m not afraid to use them.

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