January 19, 2007
Lynne Sharon Schwartz, The Writing on the Wall
It's odd and a bit disconcerting to see that a category of "9/11" fiction is emerging, but of course it is only right and natural, too, that this moment in our history should become part of our literature. The Writing on the Wall seemed to me a delicate, even elegant, engagement with the big issues of loss, survival, and recovery that broke over America that morning...delicate in the sense that the horror and pathos is understated, elegant in that these emotions are brought out through recurrent touches like the 'Missing' posters so poignantly itemized. As McEwan evokes so powerfully in Saturday as well as his essays written in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, most of us are bystanders at the crises of history, and yet even that witnessing creates change in our lives--perhaps most irrevocably, in our thinking about our lives. I think this sense of how we think differently is a big part of what Schwartz's novel is about, as her characters (so distinct, so individual, with their own complex pasts) are shaken up by the visitation of terror on the once familiar streetscapes of their city. Is this really a novel "about" 9/11, in the way that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is? I'm not sure, though both novels are certainly about Renata's favourite storyline, 'Transformed Lives'. Twin sisters, twin towers: how far, thematically, are we supposed to pursue these parallel stories of ruin?