A collage of responses to September 11, both original and reprinted, from the city with the highest concentration of literati in the world.
Editor Baer (German/NYU) had the very smart idea of exploiting the incredible talent pool of New York City writers to consecrate the attack on the World Trade Center. The hook is the correspondence between the number of “stories” in each tower and in the anthology. Baer has corralled quite a few well-known names, including Paul Auster, Lydia Davis, Samuel Delany, Vivian Gornick, and Jessica Hagedorn. Many of the pieces have a highly oblique relationship to the atrocity. David Jay Mirsky, for example, mixes a fleeting fragment of experience from that day with an allusive prose poem about the House of David that is, to say the least, recondite. Jonathan Ames contributes a tasteless and smarmy sexual memoir with the vaguest of connections to the attack. Mary Morris is more typical. She remains on topic, but her mini-memoir, which concerns teaching on that fatal day and learning one of her students has a relative who was killed at the site, is emotional without being particularly insightful. Tony Hiss gives a history lesson about the site and the way in which an unlovely piece of architecture, through the “slow, soft changes” of familiarity, was gradually assimilated into people’s total feeling for the city. A.M. Homes responds with an almost unadorned first-person account of the day. Richard Foreman creates a Beckett-like sketch of two nameless characters who talk about a “revelatory encounter” that is also a catastrophe. Amitav Ghosh’s piece about Frank and Nicole De Martini, architects who worked in the Tower, is notable for its lucid observations and tucked-in emotion (even though Frank died trying to save others); this seems the most interesting and affecting way to represent the atrocity at this point in time.
Mostly scattered testimonials: we may simply still be too close to allow the creative imagination to claim this territory yet.