Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, a young woman leaves behind her formerly frivolous life and devotes herself to befriending a mysterious and troubled man and his family.
Erika Klein worked for a giant advertising agency, had a glamorous Manhattan apartment, and spent all her money on clothes. Then the airplanes hit the World Trade Center and “Lower Manhattan became a ghost town.” Laid off and forced to move in with her parents on Long Island, Erika spends months moping around, plagued with nightmares of 9/11, before starting over at a small agency. Every day, outside her new office building, an odd man sells used newspapers and never looks at or speaks to anyone—until, one day, he looks at Erika. Intrigued, Erika investigates and learns that the man, who calls himself Zefram, suffers such debilitating depression and anxiety that he has removed himself entirely from his old life; he doesn’t even speak to his two adult sons or his worried sister. Instead, he occupies himself with collecting and selling used newspapers, listening to music, reading about the Civil War, and going for walks with his cat, Gandalf, when he’s not plagued by horrible panic attacks. Soon, it becomes clear that Erika and Zefram have a special connection. With his family’s permission, Erika tries to guide Zefram back toward the real world. But he isn’t the only troubled individual in the city, and some are far more dangerous. Debut novelist Saltzman touchingly illuminates the way chance meetings and compassionate consideration can change the course of people’s lives; however, one needs to somewhat suspend one’s disbelief to truly buy the connection between Erika and Zefram. New Yorkers will appreciate the attention to detail regarding life in and around the city post–9/11, a place where “people still seemed somewhat dazed and literally jumped whenever they heard a car backfire.”
An inspiring, albeit somewhat unbelievable, depiction of human connection.