Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer, is incredibly close to being a great read. The plot is imaginative and both funny and sad at the same time. Although highly compelling, the book falls short in its excessively lengthy and complex story line which would have benefited from some skillful editing.
The main character is nine-year-old Oskar Schell, a whip-smart boy whose father died in the world trade center on 9-11. Oskar has an especially close relationship with his father, who may suspect his child has Asperger's Syndrome, and stimulates him with challenges, puzzles and mysteries.
An aspiring inventor, Oskar imagines amazing creations, collects random photographs for his scrapbook and sends numerous letters to famous scientists, including Stephen Hawking.
Let off school early on that fateful day, Oskar cannot bear to pick up the phone for his father's last desperate calls which are recorded on the family answering machine. Driven by guilt and sadness, he hides the machine from his mother. In the aftermath, he finds a key hidden in his father's things in an envelope marked "Black."
Believing that the key will somehow unlock a mystery devised by his late father, Oskar sets out to speak to everyone in New York named Black, aided by his mute grandfather (a survivor of the WWII bombing of Dresden). His goal is to find the lock that matches that mysterious key.
Using a complex indexing system that he devises, he undertakes this seemingly impossible task that brings him into contact with a range of interesting people in an exhilarating, often hilarious, and ultimately healing odyssey.
Some reviewers think the book is exploitive of the 911 tragedy. I don't. The incredible trauma caused by that event is an essential element of the plot.
My advice: If you like the book, see the movie. It's what the book could have been.