The post-attack life of a New Jersey community that lost a disproportionate number of its members on 9/11.
Middletown: “Nearly fifty people were robbed from this middle-class commuter suburb,” giving it “the largest concentrated death toll.” Sheehy (Understanding Men’s Passages, 1998, etc.) followed a selection of families for the first 18 months after the attacks, through the disbelief and insulating numbness of the first days, through anger and tests of faith, through the discovery of resilience and independence, through relapses, and—for some—new lives and loves. Cantor Fitzgerald was widely represented in the community, and that brokerage firm’s post-disaster imbroglio is seen from the perspective of the victims’ families rather than of the ubiquitous Howard Lutnick. But working-class families are here, too. Although at times it feels as though Sheehy is using the victims to buttress her notion of life’s passages or is explaining away their grief as textbook examples of bereavement stages (“Planer was using avoidance—a typical trauma response,” or “Lisa was completely unaware of the disconnect between the verbal and emotional territories of her mind”), she does manage to portray each family and family member with a distinct personality. Most startling is the capacity of trauma’s net, which takes in not just the immediate families, but everyone from rescue workers to clergy and on to grief counselors themselves. Sheehy is particularly good with the layers and details of trauma: recognition of all the things the lost person did for their family, the paperwork and financial worries, the flashbacks, the crises in the survivor’s identity, getting the remains home piece by piece, the gremlins of guilt. Healing is a process, but a relentless one: “grieving is a spiral,” say Sheehy, and much of it is downward and ever-widening.
A sharp study of grief in both individuals and the community. (8-page photo insert, not seen)