Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A firetruck is parked near the nearly completed Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site in New York on Aug. 14.
A firetruck is parked near the nearly completed Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site in New York on Aug. 14. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The last thing I wanted on Sept. 12, 2001, was to read fiction about what had just happened. The events of the previous day, and what followed in the months afterward, were so spectacular, so horrific, that they defied narrative.
I also felt like I was drowning in real-life stories. I lived a mile from the towers, and we all traded in tales then. My neighbor, who called in sick that day and woke after his floor had been destroyed; my girlfriend's co-worker, who escaped the building so traumatized she left New York City the next day; the stories on all those missing-person posters.
A few years later, I moved away from Lower Manhattan, and I found myself desperate to read. My memories were already merging with the recycled images I'd seen on television, and I wanted to understand before the two completely combined.
Not surprisingly, the best novels about Sept. 11 came from writers whose previous work had touched on the danger of war's technology, of absolutist rhetoric, and the primacy of family in times of catastrophe.