Second-novelist Dann (Mermaid, 1986; a memoir, The Baby Boat, 1998) depicts a young widow trying to raise her son in small-town Ohio during the general panic that followed the September 11th attacks.
Ash Creek is one of those sleepy midwestern towns that aren’t close to anywhere. Still, for Hanna, whose husband died of cancer recently, Ash Creek is home. A writing teacher at the local YMCA, Hanna has a little boy named Pete, who is just starting kindergarten, and the two of them are slowly adjusting to life without a man in the house. Hanna spends time in the library researching the customs of widowhood across the world, while Pete jealously holds onto his father’s old shoes and clothes. Their neighbor Thomas, a cooper at the restored colonial manor house just outside town, often stops in with small presents and watches Pete occasionally when Hanna’s babysitters are busy. And Hanna finds herself more and more attracted to him. With Pete settling into school, it looked like life was gradually returning to normal—but history had other plans. Even a place as remote as Ash Creek was bound to be rocked by the events of 9/11, especially since Pete’s best friend Omar had an uncle who died in the World Trade Center that day. Omar’s father Mazur is an Indian immigrant who runs a dry cleaning shop. After his brother-in-law’s death, he finds himself vilified as an “Arab” by local rednecks who insult him on the street and attack his shop. As one of the few Jews in Ash Creek, Hanna is sympathetic to Mazur’s plight and makes an effort to be friendly to him. But Hanna learned to fit in a long time ago—can Mazur and Omar, now?
Dann writes with a light touch—perhaps too light: Her portrait of private grief and public fear is delicate but slow to unfold and far too tentative for most of the way. Still: a nice picture of small-town life in a global age.