June 20, 2011 by Reader's Connection
The tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks will be here in September, and I’m reading some related fiction titles. I hadn´t know there were this many.
I am so moved by Mark Helprin’s story “Monday” that I’d better do it first. The action takes place a few months after the attacks, and concerns a New York City contractor named Fitch. I don´t want to tell you much more than that.
I´ve only read the first five stories in The Pacific and Other Stories, and I may do a post later about the rest of the collection. Helprin´s prose is probably too elegant for some readers, and his characters too noble, but the transcendant behavior in “Monday” works for me.
I promise that some of the 9/11 fictions I report on will be downers. Or at least not as poetic and chivalric as “Monday.”
The critical quote on the cover announces that Shirley Abbott’s The Future of Love is “a shrewd, polished comedy of manners,” and I had mixed feelings. Should the terrorist attacks be absorbed into a comedy of manners? But it works as I read it.
We begin during the week before the attacks, with a sharp look at an assortment of marriages and adulterous affairs and other pairings. The attacks, when Abbott describes them, are gripping–one of the characters is due for a job interview in the South Tower, and luckily doesn’t show up early.
The action continues for a year afterward. You have to assume that the politics of the most sympathetic characters are much like Abbott’s own; and another author might have tried harder to get out of herself. But I laughed, reading some of the non-9/11 passages; and if Mark Helprin’s characters are too noble for your blood, you might enjoy the way some of Abbott’s folks behave.
The character Keith, in Don DeLillo’s Falling Man, does the opposite. This novel begins not the week before or a few months after, but on 9/11, in the midst of the chaos. Keith is covered with ashes, has bits of glass in his face, and when some guy in a van offers him a ride, he asks to be taken to the address of his estranged wife and son.
We follow these three troubled characters through the next few years. There are no laughs in this novel, and of course its rhythms are completely different from those in Abbott’s comedy of manners. Some passages are haunting–as when Keith returns a briefcase to its owner, Florence, and she talks about what it was like in the tower.
More 9/11-related novels to follow . . .
By leaving early, [Fitch] made it much less likely that he would encounter the mortuary convoys, which, just as he did, used Twenty-third Street to cross town. He told himself that this was a matter of convenience, because of the time he lost when they passed, when he would stop, turn to the street, put his hand on his heart, and bow his head. But those convoys raced by quickly, sirens blaring, always escorted by flag-bedecked fire trucks and many police cars, and for Fitch it was not a matter of convenience at all. Even in January, when the convoys were running with just body parts, he could not get used to them, and would never fail to bow his head in respect, though by January he was just about the only one who still did.