The plot of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close hinges on a mysterious key. Fitting: it’s a roman à clef in several ways. Look at Oskar Schell, age nine, the book’s precocious, insufferable Montessori casualty of a narrator. Wordsworth wrote that the child is father to the man, but in this case, “father” doesn’t cut it: the child is indistinguishable from the man. Harry Siegel, who wrote a vicious review of Incredibly Close for the New York Press, noted that Oskar “writes letters to Stephen Hawking and other luminaries” and that Foer “wrote letters to Susan Sontag when he was nine.” That’s not all: upon finishing his first novel, Foer wrote to Sontag, John Barth, Joyce Carol Oates, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, John Updike, and other “luminaries” to request “the next sheet of paper that he or she would have written...


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