On September 11, a Manhattan family escapes to the Hamptons as the Twin Towers fall.
Gerhard and Suzannah Falktopf are a famously bohemian downtown couple—he a German émigré and world-renowned choreographer, she a Bronx ballerina and his muse of many years. They live in an art-filled loft with their four-year-old son Nikolai, but all is not well with the family. Gerhard’s dance company (and perhaps the copyright to his choreography) has been usurped by the company’s board of directors, and Suzannah is preoccupied with Nikolai (who shows signs of autism) and the judgment of the other mothers in the park. The day’s early-morning hours are spent carrying out routines and dealing with petty irritations. Gerhard is arguing on the phone with his lawyer; Suzannah is caring for Nikolai; Celine, their beautiful and inept au pair, is sleeping off another night of partying. And then through their window they see the first tower on fire. To Schulman’s credit, the lengthy description of their shock and incredulity as the horror unfolds is at once familiar and fresh. Gerhard insists on leaving the city immediately and heads for the bank and their car. While withdrawing money, he stumbles upon a vacationing French woman, Martine, and her infant cowering in the corner; her husband was going to the World Trade Center, and now she fears the worst. He takes her with them, and the dumbstruck group head for a borrowed house in the Hamptons. The beach is beautiful, the locals are dazed and Suzannah and Gerhard go their separate ways for this fateful day, he attending to Martine, Suzannah confronting Nikolai’s disability and the future of her marriage. A largely interior novel, the almost unbroken narrative moves from exposition to the events of the day, from the reflective to the frantic, resulting in a compelling portrait of the vain Falktopfs confronting something more important than their own self-indulgent concerns.
Schulman (P.S., 2004, etc.) succeeds in creating an identifiable emotional landscape out of an incomprehensible tragedy.