July 8, 2011 by Reader's Connection
When author S. J. Rozan visited Central Library in 2009, someone asked (inaudibly, here) about a couple of her books that weren’t in the Bill Smith and Lydia Chin mystery series. Her answer involved a need that she had felt to write a book about the terrorist attacks of September 11th.
She may have left Bill and Lydia out of Absent Friends, but it’s still a murder mystery, among other things.
Seven kids grow up together on Staten Island, and they go in different directions. One woman is a mover-and-shaker in the nonprofit world, a couple brothers move into their father’s rackets, and Jimmy McCaffery is a fireman who dies heroically on 9/11.
A journalist with mixed motives looks into some events in McCaffery’s past, though, and tarnishes Jimmy’s heroic image. I’m having problems with a post-9/11 fatality late in the book; and I’m not sure if it’s really contrived or if I’m just upset about the way things work out. In any case, that twenty-year old mystery in Jimmy’s past is unwrapped with great skill, and Rozan succeeds in having her readers think in new ways about truth and heroism.
If you have trouble when first starting the book, keeping track of the Staten Island kids–who’s Markie, again? which one is Jackie?–don’t worry about it. They all flesh out.
Jerry Gordon left a comment on my first list of 9/11 fiction titles, suggesting that I read Jennifer Pelland’s story “Ghosts of New York,” which appears in the Dark Faith anthology which Jerry co-edited.
I’ve read the story. If anyone dear to me had died in the attacks, I think I’d be furious; and as it is, I’m annoyed. Are New Yorkers (and Americans in general) being scolded for remembering the 9/11 victims? I don’t get it.
Lots of readers do, though. The story was, as Jerry pointed out, nominated for a Nebula Award, and there are by-and-large favorable comments at GoodReads and a hearty word of praise at Shock Totem. If you’re curious, I would of course encourage you to check out Dark Faith; but the text of “Ghosts of New York” is available online, and you can hear Rashida Smith read it at PodCastle.
My pick of the 9/11 novels that I’ve read so far is The Whole World Over by Julia Glass. The closest thing to it is Shirley Abbott’s The Future of Love, recommended on my first list, but no interminably correct characters like Abbott’s Antonia make appearances in Glass’s USA–all of Glass’s characters are allowed to mess up–so readers can breathe more deeply while reading The Whole World Over.
Greenie runs a bakery in NYC, and her husband Alan is a shrink. Walter is a gay guy who operates a restaurant down the street from Greenie’s bakery. Saga is a forlorn young woman who was injured in an accident and may never fully recover. The novel’s point of view moves among these four characters, and the reader is taken to Maine and New Mexico and San Francisco. It’s an incredibly rich story, and whenever I remembered that the terrorist attacks were going to be a part of these lives, I thought, Oh no, don’t let that happen.
More to come . . .
And all days were busy, now as before. Phone service still spotty, even the cell phones went in and out. Some offices, courtrooms, chambers still closed, judges and ADAs needing to be hunted down and mostly on foot because of the damn phones. The building where Phil had his office had reopened, but it was inside the perimeter, making many people vastly confused about whether they were allowed to go there, and if so, how.
You might have thought, given the staggering nature, the breathtaking scale, of the crime of September 11, that criminals of lesser ambition, weaker imagination, would have paused in their pursuits, even if only from embarrassment. And for the first week or so, they had. A week when the muggers, stickup artists, con men, drug dealers, and gangbangers gave New York’s stunned citizens and exhausted cops breathing room.
Then the Mayor–in the New Normal, everyone’s hero, which, according to Phil, showed how far this really was from normal–the Mayor told New Yorkers to do their patriotic duty: live their lives, get back to work.
And the city found out that crooks were as patriotic as anyone else.