Oof. I really want this book to redeem itself, but as ever I am drowning in cuteness and disaster porn.
Oskar Schell is becoming, if possible, even more insufferable as he navigates his way through this story. At the moment (I’m about 50% of the way through the book), Oskar has decided to track down everyone in New York City with the surname “Black,” which as you can imagine leads to him coming into contact with some pretty kooky characters! Did you know that New York City is the single most interesting and diverse city in the world? It’s true. But it can be pretty scary too, which is why:
“I shook my tambourine the whole time, because it helped me remember that even though I was going through different neighborhoods, I was still me.”
Let that sink in. I don’t know what’s worse — this kid using a tambourine as some kind of philosophical/metaphysical security blanket, or the fact that young boy is running around in the 21st Century in New York with an actual tambourine. I would be tempted to suggest that there were some allusions to minstrel-like characters (Pip in Moby-Dick, etc.), but honestly I think this is just a dumb Wes Anderson-y prop meant to communicate just how off-beat and wacky Oskar is. If only he and his Dad wore matching leisure suits.
Then there’s this moment, which comes after Oskar discovers a man — with the surname “Black,” of course — who keeps some kind of folder with one-word biographies of important people. When Oskar discovers that his Father is not included in this man’s records, he muses:
“Dad wasn’t a Great Man, not like Winston Churchill, whoever he was. Dad was just someone who ran a family jewelery business. Just an ordinary dad. But I wished so much, then, that he had been Great. I wished he’d been famous, famous like a movie star, which is what he deserved.”
The worst part about this is that I genuinely cannot tell if this is meant to be ironic. One, because obviously being movie-star famous is not the most important thing in the world, but it might be to a 10-year-old. But not this 10-year-old, who so constantly pretends that he’s above common concerns like fame or fun. Two, because in the movie his Dad is played by one of the biggest movie stars in the world, which means that at least the casting agent thought there was irony to be mined from this scene.
In any event, the most frustrating aspect of this book is Safran-Foer’s somewhat hard-to-follow attempt to weave together three narratives — Oskar searching for his dead Father’s last message; Oskar’s Grandmother writing to Oskar about her life; Oskar’s mute grandfather, who deserted the family before Oskar’s father was even born, but now may be living with his Grandmother unbeknownst to her because she may or may not be blind. Or at least that’s the best I can make of it.
Either way, it’s messy. It’s precious. And thank God, it’s nearly over.