From the restaurant that once had the best views in town, 9/11 is witnessed minute by agonizing minute.
Beigbeder (99 Francs, not reviewed) isn’t afraid of taking a risk: a Frenchman writing about a subject incredibly sensitive to Americans, and a subject he has no firsthand knowledge of. Fortunately, he’s got plenty of ideas and not much by way of axes to grind. The novel (it appeared in France in 2003) comes at its story from a couple of angles. The first, the famous restaurant just minutes before the first plane hits, is the obvious attention-grabber. We relive the event through the eyes of some of the victims, most importantly a father who’d brought his two boys up for breakfast. Beigbeder also introduces himself (or a barely concealed facsimile) as a wandering French author in the present day, trying to wrap his mind around the disaster and mostly coming up only with scattered conjectures and heat ’n’ serve theories. The book is heavy with frustration, both on the part of the author, detesting his own ineffectuality, and on the part of the victims, trapped in the restaurant between the burning wreckage of the plane below and the locked rooftop door above. While Beigbeder’s own maunderings about the cause and effect of 9/11 do provide for some divertingly ruminative passages—he has no trace of Euro-intelligentsia knee-jerk dislike of America—but, ultimately, the victims here are the most eloquent witnesses. Beigbeder is unafraid to shed light on the more tragically horrifying aspects of the attacks, at least as far as he can imagine them, and there are several moments of pure soul-aching sadness. And in the end, this is a story without answers, but one that takes the worst that humanity can dish out and faces it down, unflinchingly.
Sometimes slight, but always impressive: an important addition to the chorus of heavier, more lifeless tomes on the subject.