This is the story of a precocious NYC boy of 9, Oskar Schell, whose father, we learn little by little, was killed in the destruction of the twin towers on 9/11. He heard his father’s messages on their answering machine while home alone waiting for his mother. He takes the machine and hides it.
He is close to his paternal grandmother who lives directly across the street, whose husband left her before their son was born. This is the story of quests, and the search for love.
All anyone wants from anyone else, not love itself, but the knowledge that love is there.
While rummaging through his father’s closet one day, he finds a blue vase high on a shelf, and inside it is a small envelope with the word ‘Black’ written on it. After asking around, it is determined that the key is to a safe deposit box, but why is it hidden? And Black — is it a name? Oscar goes on a quest to visit every Black in the phone book to see if they knew his father. He takes the reclusive old man who lives in the apartment above him along, and they spend months meeting interesting people, but none who knew his dad.
Meanwhile, his grandmother now seems to have a ‘renter’ who Oskar has never seen, and he is upset with his mother who is seeing another man, which Oskar resents terribly.
It is a sad and hopeful book at the same time, reflecting back to us how individuals cope differently with life, love, abandonment, and loss. We weep for Oskar and his mother, each trying to cope and go on somehow with their lives. We hurt for his grandmother who lost both her husband and now her son. We marvel at the kindness of strangers, and the spirit of survival that is in all of us.
It was made into a film in 2010, and Tom Hanks starred in it.
John Updike, writing for The New Yorker, found the novel to be “thinner, overextended, and sentimentally watery,” compared to Foer’s first novel. He stated, “the book’s hyperactive visual surface covers up a certain hollow monotony in its verbal drama.” Oh,yeah? Pfffft. I don’t even know what that means. I loved it. Go read it. You will love it, too.