The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘9/11’

Big as Life

March 12, 2014 | by

E. L. Doctorow’s prescient, forgotten sci-fi novel.

New_York_Skyline_-_June_1913_(LOC)

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

No living novelist has written about New York City with as much historical insight as E. L. Doctorow, this generation’s bard of the five boroughs. It seemed only a matter of time, then, before Doctorow grappled in his fiction with 9/11. But the recently released Andrew’s Brain is an unlikely 9/11 novel, at least from Doctorow. For one, it’s deliberately narrow in scope, structured as a claustrophobic dialogue between the titular character, a hapless titular scientist, and his faceless interlocutor, presumably a psychiatrist. Like his contemporaries—Don DeLillo with Falling Man, John Updike with Terrorist—Doctorow approaches the event not on a grand scale but in miniature.

In rambling, unreliable anecdotes, Andrew cycles through the devastating events of his adult life. As a sleep-deprived graduate student, he accidentally poisons his newborn daughter with faultily prescribed medicine. After his wife divorces him, Andrew, wracked with guilt, decamps for a small college in the Wasatch Mountains. There he meets Briony, a buoyant undergraduate gymnast—a manic pixie dream girl if ever there was one. Her improbable love lifts Andrew from his self-pitying grief cycle and allows him to experience happiness, at least fleetingly. She and Andrew marry and move to New York City, where Briony gives birth to a baby girl. Shortly thereafter, on a routine morning jog through downtown Manhattan, Briony dies in the September 11 attacks. In helpless despair, Andrew drives to his ex-wife’s suburban home and hands her his infant daughter, seemingly as a replacement for the one he had neglectfully killed years earlier. Read More »

3 COMMENTS

Common Language

February 12, 2014 | by

snooker parlor konstmat flickr

Photo: Konstmat, via Flickr

During my junior year of college, I had the chance to study at a university in London. I flew out of JFK on September 15, 2001, and the flight was so empty I was able to lie down across four seats for the first and last time in my life. In England, many of our fellow students seemed to feel obliged to either ask solicitously about our 9/11 experiences, or express their views on American imperialism. In both capacities, I felt I proved a disappointment.

During that year abroad, my American friend Rachel and I became fascinated with a group of fellow literature students who seemed to us unspeakably wonderful. They never said anything in seminar, they always looked glamorously ridiculous, and, best of all, their company was highly exclusive.

We came up with names for all of them. There was the seeming leader, “Robert Smith,” who had sculptural, Cure-like hair. “Charles and Camilla Macaulay” looked a bit alike—in fact, the whole crew struck us as very Secret History-esque. We called one tall, severe boy “Adam Bede”; one emaciated fellow was “Schiele”; another, I’m sorry to say, was just “the Balding One.”

They moved in a pack, smoked roll-ups in a secretive cluster, exchanged notes and amused eye contact during class, and cohabited, or so we assumed. The clique seemed to us all things not-American. It shamed us to think that they associated us with the Boston girl who was always shouting loud, obvious things about Sylvia Plath or the sleazy Arizona boy who hit on all the prettiest girls. We were desperate to prove our worth to them, but how? The only person outside their circle with whom we’d ever seen them associate was a studious, translucently fair young man named Rupert Davies. Read More »

Comments Off

On the Shelf

September 14, 2011 | by

Portrait of Roald Dahl, 1954, by Carl Van Vechten.

A cultural news roundup.

  • William Sleator, a well-loved author of young-adult science fiction and fantasy, has died at sixty-six.
  • “Of course, buzzwords come and go. But it’s striking that 9/11 and its aftereffects have left almost no traces in the language of everyday life.
  • Walk a mile in J. K. Rowling’s boots.
  • “Rowling, who famously guards her privacy, is one of a number of prominent public figures expected to give evidence to Lord Justice Leveson’s judicial inquiry into phone hacking and media ethics and practices.”
  • In response to the BBC’s plans to cut short fiction, prominent authors embark on a tweetathon.
  • Not to be confused with the ambitious Sixty-Six Books Twitter project.
  • Chinua Achebe vs. 50 Cent.
  • A single Salinger sentence sells for $50,000.
  • The Amazon digital-book library marches on.
  • Happy ninety-fifth birthday, Roald Dahl.
  • A birthday appeal to save the late author’s writing hut is controversial.
  • The college experience, sans tuition.
  • Remembering comics author Del Connell.
  • NO COMMENTS

    The Maserati Kid

    September 9, 2011 | by

    I turned down the driveway, which descended slightly from the road, the house barely visible through the pines. The feeling was of entering a secret world. I arrived in front of an open-air garage, filled with vintage Corvettes and Maseratis. Just beyond it, across a stretch of lawn, was a basketball court.

    It was a sunny August morning in East Hampton. I had come to play in a memorial game for a man who had died in the twin towers. The man who had built this house.

    I was a friend of a friend, recruited to help fill out the roster. Since the guy’s last name started with G, and since my childhood friend Jimmy Gartenberg was killed on that same day, in that same place, I gave a private nod to Jimmy.

    The basketball court was a fantasy: glass backboards, three point lines, beautiful landscaping. A TV crew would be filming, I had been told. The widow had written a book. I would be both participant and prop. Read More »

    4 COMMENTS

    On the Shelf

    September 7, 2011 | by

    Mark Twain.

  • A study finds that reading fiction may improve empathy.
  • Carol Ann Duffy: “Poems are a form of texting.”
  • Language fail.
  • The Man-Booker shortlist is announced. Herewith, a cheat sheet.
  • Philip Schultz: “[My tutor] worked with me to try to teach me how to read, without any success at all. And one day out of frustration asked me what I thought I was going to do in life if I couldn’t read. And surprising both of us, I said I wanted to be a writer. And he laughed.”
  • Mark Twain’s charming love letter.
  • On bookshelf aesthetics.
  • Feral is having a moment.
  • A new Wuthering Heights adaptation is “caked in grime and damp with saliva.” Oh, and “salted with profanity.”
  • Ten years on, reading 9/11.
  • Profanisaurus? There’s an app for that.
  • George R. R. Martin, fanboy.
  • Haunting images of America’s asylums.
  • NO COMMENTS

    Helen Schulman on ‘This Beautiful Life’

    August 9, 2011 | by

    Courtesy Denise Bosco.

    Novelist Helen Schulman doesn’t shy away from controversial subjects. Her last novel, A Day at the Beach, examined a marriage that falls apart hour by agonizing hour over the course of September 11. Her latest, This Beautiful Life, follows the Bergamot family. They seem a picture of success: Richard a high-powered if overly-committed university man, Liz the stay-at-home mom, Jake a high school student on the road to college, and Coco, their adopted daughter of seven. When Jake finds himself the recipient of an erotic video made by a thirteen-year-old with a crush, Daisy, he forwards it to his friends. The video goes viral, the story becomes tabloid fodder, and the repercussions undo his life and bring the fissures in Richard and Liz’s relationship to light. In Spring 1995, The Paris Review published the story that grew into her novel The Revisionist. Schulman, now the Fiction Coordinator of The New School’s Writing Program, chatted with me about the book over a campari and soda and homemade potato chips.

    What led you to write This Beautiful Life?

    It started with what was happening in the news—the beginning of “sexting.” One incident in particular, at Horace Mann, had been written up in The New York Times and caused a scuttlebutt among the mothers. I thought I would write a nonfiction book about it, so I wrote Horace Mann, but I was totally stonewalled. Nobody wanted to talk to me. And so I thought, Well then, I’ll make it up.

    Do you feel novelists have a responsibility to make social commentary in their work?

    If you tell the truth about the world, you’re always being political, because the world is so highly charged. In these last two books I looked at the times we were living in very closely, almost as if I were a photographer or a social historian. In A Day at the Beach, I was really interested in the culture at the moment of a big event. I wanted to write about the nineties, but I didn’t know how until 9/11 crystallized it. For This Beautiful Life, there were several events in the decade post-9/11 that interested me. One was the incredible, unparalleled greed and rush for money. Another was the Internet infiltrating our lives in a new way. The Internet created a divide between parents and kids even larger than sex, drugs, and rock had in the sixties. Read More »

    NO COMMENTS