It is a necessary thing to aim the bar high when attempting to present the most remarkable expressions about 9/11. But we shouldn’t get so intimidated by the subject matter that we end up falling into stilted language and a stilted vision. I was reading The New York Times and was surprised by what I read in a think piece entitled, “Outdone by Reality,” by Michiko Kakutani. The writer couldn’t think of any novel that truly captured the raw feeling of 9/11. The one that comes to mind for me is “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer. Kakutani does mention it but dismisses it within the portion of his article he entitles, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” The problem with that novel, for him, is that it resembles the structure of Gunter Grass’s “The Tin Drum,” which also has as its protagonist, a boy named Oskar. I would simply say that is part of the art of the novel. But no, for Kakutani finding the words is oh such a struggle. I don’t think so at all. In fact, Foer’s book does a remarkable job of not being on a high horse, shrugging one’s shoulders and weeping because the words aren’t there.
The words are there! You just need to organize your thoughts. The character of Oskar, a very precocious 9-year-old, speaks for the turmoil felt by so many after the 9/11 tragedy. In this case, Oskar lost his father that day. It’s a very symbolic and effective construct. Oskar is a mess. He finds a key among his father’s belongings. For most of the story, he is seeking the lock to that key. We seek our own answers too. Are they all at the same level of intensity? Of course not. You could be someone living on the Upper West Side or in Kansas City and not have lost anyone in 9/11. The connection to the event, for most of us, is what we consume from the media. Are we all traumatized by the event, rendered mute? No, that would be nutty in the extreme and highly prententious at the least. Anyway, I am veering off the topic. I just think Mr. Kakutani had a job to do: write a think piece for The New York Times. And it reads as such. Take from it what you will. It’s just human nature. You can live in close proximity to where a major event occurred and still have a, say, provincial view of it. For Mr. Kakutani, it was the installation in 2005 of Christo’s “The Gates,” a series of saffron draped gates that dotted Central Park, that he acknowledged as a successful work of art that addressed 9/11, albeit indirectly. Well, that is Kakutani’s neighborhood. He let down his guard and enjoyed the art. Now if he could just go back and give Mr. Foer’s book another chance, assuming he ever read it in the first place. Well, he can always see the movie starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and complain about how off the mark that movie was to healing our collective wound. It’s a major motion picture. It probably will miss the mark but it could spark a better understanding for many who have not even heard of the book yet, much less its paying tribute to “The Tin Drum,” both an excellent novel and film.