2005_04_books_foer.jpgBecause Jonathan Safran Foer's new book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, is one of the first novels to explicitly address 9/11, it's natural that many of the reviews so far have focused the way his main character, Oskar Schell, relates to losing his father in the attacks.

But in yesterday's Times review of the book, Walter Kirn also makes the point that Foer's main character is also a recognizable type in the literature of New York. "He's a cross between J. D. Salinger's precocious, morbid, psychiatry-proof child philosophers and all those daunting city kids from children's books whose restless high spirits and social confidence get them into funny predicaments while their preoccupied but loving parents conduct their mysterious offstage grown-up business - business that they'll come home from just in time to save their offspring from real trouble," writes Kirn.

The novel itself takes place largely on the streets of New York, but the city described is a child's version, where everything is bigger, more complex, and more cartoonish than it actually is. Foer asks us to suspend disbelief and imagine that the 9-year-old Schell is somehow allowed out into the streets by himself, and that he has the mental and physical resources to travel by foot to the far reaches of the city. Yet, the city he finds is mapped out only by basic landmarks like the Empire State Building and Coney Island; he seems to travel so far and through so many streets, yet his adventures lead to predictable places.

It's clear that Schell's personal world is post-9/11, as he often refers to himself being afraid of public transportation and imagines the way his father, who was at a breakfast meeting at Windows on the World during the attacks, must have died. But it's strange how the rest of the city is unaffected by 9/11; people react when Schell describes his loss, but the description of the city itself is in the unchanged (unchangable?) present.

Kirn asserts that Foer's book is, in some ways an homage to the world of the "wise child"--to the mythologies of Eloise and Stuart Little--which, in some ways, also died on 9/11. "At a primal cultural level, the benevolent, innocent New York ... was vaporized, even as a fantasy, when the towers were toppled," he writes.

On the whole, despite its inconsistencies, Gothamist, a sucker for a well-spun tale, really enjoyed ELAIC. If you did too, and want to tell the author in person, you can meet him tomorrow night (4/5) at 7 p.m. at the Barnes and Noble at 17th Street and Union Square.