Ten Years Later

Our August discussion of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close became, at one point, a discussion of the September 11th attacks. We talked about where we were when the planes hit, how our families and communities reacted, and if our different ages gave us different perspectives. We also wondered how other fiction writers presented the attacks, and if there was even other fiction about 9/11 being produced when Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was published in 2005.

Since our meeting, I did a little digging and have created a chronological list of ten novels about September 11th, told from a variety of perspectives.  I am especially exciting to read the newest book on the list, The Submission by Amy Waldman, which has been getting a lot of attention from critics.  

Double Vision by Pat Barker (2003)

Very capably written and insistently readable, it’s an eventful narrative focused initially on sculptress Kate Frobisher, whose photojournalist husband Ben had moved on from covering the destroyed Twin Towers to Afghanistan, where he was killed by a sniper. Kate’s story soon meshes with that of Stephen Sharkey, whose own experience of 9/11 coincided with the discovery of his wife’s adultery. (Kirkus, 10/13/2003)

Queen of Dreams by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (2004)

Rakhi, a young artist living in Berkeley, California, finds herself caught between the turmoil of life in America in the wake of September 11th and the India of her mother, a woman with the ability to share and interpret the dreams of others. (NoveList)

The Writing on the Wall by Lynne Sharon Schwartz (2005)

Incisive, unafraid to flirt with melodrama in pursuit of a compelling story, acutely descriptive yet to the point, [Schwartz] brings to fiction the era-defining tragedy of September 11, 2001. New Yorker Renata, a librarian with a gift for languages, is a hard nut to crack [in part due to a series of losses in her life]. Schwartz evokes in electrifying detail the deep shock felt in the wake of the attacks [...] Also a richly nuanced love story, a tale of earned trust and courageous receptivity in a time of fanaticism and war. (BookList, 5/1/2005)

A Disorder Peculiar to the Country by Ken Kalfus (2006)

Even with the horror of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center, Joyce, thinking her husband dead, experiences a moment of glee. Similarly, with Joyce scheduled to fly to San Francisco that morning, when Marshall hears that the plane she was supposed to have boarded crashed into the Pentagon, he, too, is initially hopeful. Thus begins book reviewer and journalist Kalfus’s (The Commissariat of Enlightenment ) black comedy of post–9/11 New York, intensified by the parallel issues of divorce and terrorism. (Library Journal, 1/6/2006)

Falling Man by Don DeLillo (2007)

Escaping from the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks, Keith makes his way to the uptown apartment where his ex-wife and young son are living and considers how the day’s events have irrevocably changed his perception of the world. (NoveList)  *BookList Editors’ Choice – Best Fiction 2007; New York Times Notable Books – Fiction and Poetry 2007

Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid (2007)

An intelligent and absorbing 9/11 novel, written from the perspective of Changez, a young Pakistani whose sympathies, despite his fervid immigrant embrace of America, lie with the attackers. [...] After the towers fall, Changez is subject to intensified scrutiny and physical threats, and his co-workers become markedly less affable as his beard grows in [...]  Upset by his adopted country’s “growing and self-righteous rage,” [he] slacks off at work and is fired. (Publishers Weekly, 12/11/2006) *New York Times Notable Books – Fiction and Poetry 2007

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill (2008)

In this novel set in post-9/11 New York City, Dutch banker Hans has been abandoned by his wife and son, who have decamped to London. Defeated by his seemingly failed marriage, Hans takes up residence at the Chelsea Hotel and entertains his childhood love of cricket by joining a league made up of West Indian New Yorkers. Here he meets Chuck, a charismatic Trinidadian entrepreneur who introduces him to the outer reaches of New York’s boroughs and marginal cultures [...] O’Neill’s poignant and tragic vision of New York is paired beautifully with the protagonist’s reflection on his past failures and moments of happiness. (BookList, 4/15/2008) *New York Times Notable Books – Fiction and Poetry 2008; PEN-Faulkner Award

Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan (2009)

Love Is the Higher Law looks at 9/11, and the days, months, and years following it, through the eyes, hearts, and minds of three New York teenagers. Levithan’s story will be eye-opening for today’s younger teens — some of whom may have little memory of the actual attack — and for older teens and adults it will help to make it clear that, however one reacted to the tragedy, you were not alone. A powerful book sure to touch all who read it. (Indie Bound)

The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller (2010)

Miller (The Senator’s Wife ) opens doors to the private lives of four people grappling with loss in her latest novel. Leslie, her husband, Pierce, and her close friend Sam attend a play written by Billy, the former lover of Leslie’s brother, Gus, who was killed on 9/11. The play, The Lake Shore Limited , seems based on the horror of that fateful day and the complicated feelings it unearthed in those waiting to hear if their loved ones were dead or alive—it jolts Leslie, Billy, Sam, and Rafe, the actor who plays the main character in the play, into a difficult inner struggle that could lead to healing and closure. (Library Journal, 04/15/2010)

The Submission by Amy Waldman (2011)

The selection of a Muslim architect for a 9/11 memorial stirs a media circus in Waldman’s poised and commanding debut novel.The jury assembled to select a design for a memorial in Manhattan represented every important interest group: a 9/11 widow, an art critic, a governor’s representative and other major stakeholders. They considered blind submissions before arriving at a garden-themed design. The one contingency they didn’t plan for was that the winner would be a Muslim, Mohammad Khan. Though he’s not especially religious and his bona fides as an architect are impeccable, Khan still becomes a target for anti-Islam firebrands, and even his defenders are left wringing their hands. (Kirkus, 07/01/2011)

Are there any titles we should add to this list?  Share your thoughts on these and other novels about September 11th in the comments.

Comments

Alissa
Reply

One of the first books about 9/11 and still one of the best in my opinion is “The Usual Rules” by Joyce Maynard. Both Maynard and David Levithan were in New York the day of the attacks and their experiences inform their narratives – they capture the experience so well.

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