This was Jonathan Safran Foer's last chance.
I didn't even make it through the (very long) introduction to Everything is Illuminated before I looked at the book with utter distaste and couldn't force myself to pick it up again. I don't know what the rest of the book was like, and I've heard many people rave about it, but the introduction was over 40 pages of one joke, and not a particularly funny one at that.
Yeah, it's hilarious that the narrator can't speak English as well as he thinks he can! It's rolling-on-the-floor funny that's he's strange and different! And then when you pair that with the narrator telling us repeatedly how great the main character is, who happens to have the same name as the author...well, let's just say it put me off entirely.
Again, this is just judging from the introduction, so it's probably totally unfair, but it read to me like someone who'd been told as a child that he was precocious and never gotten over it.
And then I read his wife's (also acclaimed) novel, and finished that one, but was left cold by it. It's unfair to judge him for that, but to me, it was two strikes.
This was his last chance.
And damn it if he didn't knock this one out of the park. I enjoyed this book so much I might actually give Everything is Illuminated another chance. Maybe.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is touching, it's funny, it's heart-breaking, and it's surprising. Time after time he layered little surprises about who knew what and when, and every time they caught me by surprise - they weren't twists, but instead added a deeper layer of meaning to the story. Most of the time, a deeper layer of pain and love and understanding.
As a book about silences and absences, and what is said and not said, it was devastatingly effective to learn what people did know, and never acknowledged. And for some reason, I never saw any of these tiny domestic revelations before they hit me.