When I was enrolled in my MA in English program, I took a fantastic course, Literature and Terrorism. The Writing on the Wall, while initially one of the course texts, had to be cut, much to our professor’s regret, due to logistics. Two years later, I finally read and finished it. WOW. I now understand my professor’s regret, and wish we had had time to read it together in my class.
The premise is deceptively simple: Renata is an independent, self-made 34-year-old librarian, with a fascination for languages and history. She is happy to keep this present a part of her life and the past completely separate from her identity. She meets Jack, a sexy and successful philanthropist, and is seemingly able to keep her former life at bay. But, on September 2001, all that changes. As the present is subsumed into chaos and terror, her past resurfaces in ways she never expects.
That description sounds so cheesy, I realize. But it is an eloquent and insightful take on the significance of personal loss, on the national loss that changed the United States as a nation, and the transformations we undergo when we allow ourselves to become vulnerable to other people. Schwartz writes Renata in a way that makes her sympathetic to readers, without being either too pathetic or arrogant. It’s a delicate balance that is successfully pulled off throughout the novel. I found myself gripped by the “mystery” aspect, wondering how 9/11 would work against Renata’s past. Without spoiling anything: it all makes sense the further the novel progresses, which is a testament to Ms. Schwartz’s skill as a writer and storyteller.
If you are interested in the fiction of 9/11, I cannot recommend this enough. Many post-9/11 fiction that has emerged has been male (a topic of great discussion within my mostly-female classmates and our male professor, a compassionate and ardent feminist, I might add), so this perspective is especially refreshing.