Be warned – if you are in my book club, you shouldn’t read this post. Because these are some of the things I will want to talk about on Friday. Or you can and you’ll just know what I’m going to say. Whatever. Do whatever you want.
I finished the book tonight. It was one that took me a little bit to get into, and I was a little worried. As much as I enjoy a child narrator, Oskar was a little too precocious for me at first. If this book didn’t have the paternal grandparent POV for about half of it, I don’t think I could have gotten through it. I find myself least interested in Oskar, of any of the characters. He’s sweet and very earnest, but he seems more a vehicle for the rest of the story. The rest of the narrative is much more fascinating to me. I want to think that Oskar became so devastated by his father’s death that he retreated into these habits and affectations, and slowly grows from them as he becomes reattached to the living by the end of the novel, but I’m not sure that works here, that it was what JSF was going for.
This brings me to another point – the perspective in this novel. Only a few times do we see the same event from different perspectives – in fact, JSF really plays with the POV here. While it is all technically taking place in the same time, in 2003, the letters really do feel as if they’re from another time. I wonder what made JSF think to develop the story in this way. We never hear from Oskar’s mother, which is an interesting statement on patriarchy. And maybe I’m still working out the kinks here, but I would have liked to have had more connections between the grandparents and Oskar. Obviously there are many, but at times it felt more disjointed than I felt was intended.
And obviously I’d like to give brief mention to the unconventional narrative techniques – the pictures, the editing marks, the formatting of the letters. It all adds to the perspective, of course. I frequently found myself wondering what Oskar’s father would have thought of this whole situation. Clearly, all of the narrators thought the world of Thomas Jr, which is slightly unusual and I wish he would have had some arguable flaws. But that aside, I still would have been interested in Thomas Jr’s input – but, as with many things in this novel, that is locked away and cannot be opened.
It seems that the idea of perspectives is what I most gained from this novel. I’m okay with that.
And I suppose this is more a book about ideas than people, concepts rather than plot. I guess I knew that going in – this is the kind of book I prefer. There is no big spoiler, unless you count the Grandpa Reveal, which wasn’t really that shocking. At the very beginning of the book, you know that Oskar’s dad is by far the most important character of this book and he has already died. Isn’t it interesting, though, that JSF manages to make a dead person such an important character? Without him, this unique story would not be possible, and yet, were he still alive, it would not be interesting in the least – because Oskar could always go to him for the answers. And now he can’t.
However, I wouldn’t go as far to say that this is a coming-of-age book. Oskar is, still, only nine years old. He’s very clearly still a child, living in a child’s world, protected by the rules of the adult world – always at least one eye on him at all times, even if he doesn’t know it. This makes the end interesting, as Oskar realizes that someone always knew where he was going – and yet, I wonder if that’s really true. Children are very unreliable narrators – they do not understand the way things work in the adult world, and therefore jump to these conclusions. This book is full of this – for example, the way Oskar assumes his father left him a puzzle when he died, and how he assumes the key must be the starting point when he finds it. Although he does end up doing a good deed, he doesn’t set out to do so. He sets out to find the lockbox for the key, convinced his father has left him something inside it.
And while this novel is certainly not about Oskar finding the key’s lockbox, it is still part of the story. A metaphor, perhaps – every character has a secret locked away, something that only an unexpected person can unlock. Only William Black’s lockbox is literal, and even he has an emotional lockbox with his ex-wife that Oskar unlocks (or, I assume he does, given the nature of his conversation about her).
Another thing I really appreciate about EL&IC is that it carefully chronicles a family’s mourning period without actually coming out and saying so. I recently read another book that chronicled a mourning period specifically through Shiva, and it frequently felt forced, as if another setting would have been more appropriate, on some levels. EL&IC puts you through the paces of moving past someone’s death – not wanting to do so, but being unable to do anything else – through the perspective of several people dealing with several deaths, both physical and emotional. I wrote “resolution through death” on my notes page tonight as I finished the book, but this is all I can remember from it. Maybe later.
“Here is the point of everything I have been trying to tell you, Oskar.
It’s always necessary.
I love you.
Have you read EL&IC? What are your thoughts?