“As it was coming out of my mouth, I wished it was going into my mouth.”
–Johnathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
We all know that feeling. Every person to have ever lived has taken their foot and shoved it into their mouth at least once. If you haven’t felt the sensation of watching your words (suddenly quite visible) traveling from your mouth to someone’s ear while you scrambled in horror to retrieve them, it’s coming. Grit your teeth and dig in your heels. Or just apologize. That’s probably the better thing to do.
But the way Foer describes this uncomfortable sensation is so unique. I laughed aloud when I read Oskar’s pithy words. He’s a pretty straightforward kid, this narrator. He’s bright, honest, and painful. He says what he thinks without much of a filter. In fact, I don’t think he ever expressed embarrassment or regret over his own words until the moment quoted above.
For context, he’s been traipsing around New York City talking to complete strangers for a while by this point. He knocked on one apartment door to find a beautiful (and much older) woman standing on the other side. You know what he says? Well, you’ll have to read to find out. I’ll just say it was a pretty smooth pick-up line for a 9-year-old. Too bad she wasn’t his age.
It’s this very honesty that draws us into Oskar’s story though. The narrative is interesting enough, but Oskar’s unassuming awkwardness is beautiful in a strange way. He goes about life with a complete innocence that is shocking for any New Yorker, and particularly one like Oskar. In direct opposition to his past and to the PTSD symptoms that come with it, young Oskar is heart-wrenchingly open.
I wonder what to do with Oskar’s honesty. Even he, at this point in the novel, realizes that maybe some things just shouldn’t be said. That doesn’t stop him from making many other strangers uncomfortable throughout the rest of the narrative. Nor would we want it to. Nobody wants Oskar to knock on their door, but maybe we need him safely pressed between the pages of a book. There, we can face the raw world that we’re not ready to face on our own.