The main character in this story is a somewhat fantastical 9-year-old boy who serves as a pyschological medium for an emotional, multigenerational story. It's a device that works, according to Lucia Silva of Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, Calif.
Excerpt: Chapter One
What about a teakettle? What if the spout opened and closed when the steam came out, so it would become a mouth, and it could whistle pretty melodies, or do Shakespeare, or just crack up with me? I could invent a teakettle that reads in Dad's voice, so I could fall asleep, or maybe a set of kettles that sings the chorus of "Yellow Submarine," which is a song by the Beatles, who I love, because entomology is one of my raisons d'être, which is a French expression that I know. Another good thing is that I could train my anus to talk when I farted. If I wanted to be extremely hilarious, I'd train it to say, "Wasn't me!" every time I made an incredibly bad fart. And if I ever made an incredibly bad fart in the Hall of Mirrors, which is in Versailles, which is outside of Paris, which is in France, obviously, my anus would say, "Ce n'étais pas moi!"
What about little microphones? What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls? When you skateboarded down the street at night you could hear everyone's heartbeat, and they could hear yours, sort of like sonar. One weird thing is, I wonder if everyone's hearts would start to beat at the same time, like how women who live together have their menstrual periods at the same time, which I know about, but don't really want to know about. That would be so weird, except that the place in the hospital where babies are born would sound like a crystal chandelier in a houseboat, because the babies wouldn't have had time to match up their heartbeats yet. And at the finish line at the end of the New York City Marathon it would sound like war.
And also, there are so many times when you need to make a quick escape, but humans don't have their own wings, or not yet, anyway, so what about a birdseed shirt?
My first jujitsu class was three and a half months ago. Self-defense was something that I was extremely curious about, for obvious reasons, and Mom thought it would be good for me to have a physical activity besides tambourine, so my first jujitsu class was three and a half months ago. There were fourteen kids in the class, and we all had on neat white robes. We practiced bowing, and then we were all sitting down Native American style, and then Sensei Mark asked me to go over to him. "Kick my privates," he told me. That made me feel self-conscious. "Excusez-moi?" I told him. He spread his legs and told me, "I want you to kick my privates as hard as you can." He put his hands at his sides, and took a breath in, and closed his eyes, and that's how I knew that actually he meant business. "Jose," I told him, and inside I was thinking, What the? He told me, "Go on, guy. Destroy my privates."
"Destroy your privates?" With his eyes still closed he cracked up a lot and said, "You couldn't destroy my privates if you tried. That's what's going on here. This is a demonstration of the well-trained body's ability to absorb a direct blow. Now destroy my privates." I told him, "I'm a pacifist," and since most people my age don't know what that means, I turned around and told the others, "I don't think it's right to destroy people's privates. Ever." Sensei Mark said, "Can I ask you something?" I turned back around and told him, " 'Can I ask you something?' is asking me something." He said, "Do you have dreams of becoming a jujitsu master?" "No," I told him, even though I don't have dreams of running the family jewelry business anymore. He said, "Do you want to know how a jujitsu student becomes a jujitsu master?" "I want to know everything," I told him, but that isn't true anymore either. He told me, "A jujitsu student becomes a jujitsu master by destroying his master's privates." I told him, "That's fascinating." My last jujitsu class was three and a half months ago.
I desperately wish I had my tambourine with me now, because even after everything I'm still wearing heavy boots, and sometimes it helps to play a good beat. My most impressive song that I can play on my tambourine is "The Flight of the Bumblebee," by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which is also the ring tone I downloaded for the cell phone I got after Dad died. It's pretty amazing that I can play "The Flight of the Bumblebee," because you have to hit incredibly fast in parts, and that's extremely hard for me, because I don't really have wrists yet. Ron offered to buy me a five-piece drum set. Money can't buy me love, obviously, but I asked if it would have Zildjian cymbals. He said, "Whatever you want," and then he took my yo-yo off my desk and started to walk the dog with it. I know he just wanted to be friendly, but it made me incredibly angry. "Yo-yo moi!" I told him, grabbing it back. What I really wanted to tell him was "You're not my dad, and you never will be."
Excerpted from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Copyright © 2005 by Jonathan Safran Foer. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.