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9/11 looms large in literary world

Rescue workers continue to search the debris of

Rescue workers continue to search the debris of the World Trade Center in New York. (Getty Images) Credit: Rescue workers continue to search the debris of the World Trade Center in New York. (Getty Images)

The 9/11 attacks provided plenty of painful — and, in some cases, therapeutic — material for novelists. Here are five fictional works inspired by the very real aftermath:

‘The Metropolis Case’
Matthew Gallaway (2010)
Plot: The lives of four people in four cities intersect, all linked by Richard Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” opera. When 9/11 strikes, one character is forced to re-evaluate his life.
How it was received: The book was praised for its strong character development and the use of 9/11 as a plot point. The New York Times called the book “enchanting” and noted it got darker after the attacks occur.

‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’
Jonathan Safran Foer (2005)
Plot: A 9-year-old boy grapples with the death of his father, killed on 9/11, and searches for the answers to questions surrounding a key he left behind.
How it was received: Foer sidestepped 9/11’s complexities by writing from the faux-simplistic perspective of a child, many said.

Joseph O’Neill (2008)
Plot: A Dutch-born man whose family is forced to live in the Chelsea Hotel after 9/11 seeks solace in cricket and the immigrants who play it.
How it was received: 9/11 wasn’t the center of the story, but critics didn’t mind. “O’Neill has cleverly distanced ‘Netherland’ from the tragedy by largely excluding it as a ... concern for many of his characters,” the Chicago Tribune wrote.

‘The Submission’
Amy Waldman (2011)
Plot: A Muslim architect wins a contest to design the 9/11 Memorial, sparking nationwide outrage.
How it was received: Waldman was applauded for writing a story with parallels to the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy. “Waldman recognizes the tragedy of 9/11 without indulging in sentimentality,” said the Associated Press.

‘The Emperor’s Children’
Claire Messud (2006)
Plot: 9/11 brings a new perspective to three well-off friends in NYC struggling with career and identity issues.
How it was received: The reviews were positive and praised the book’s unique angle to dissect 9/11. “The group orbits around the post-Sept. 11 city with disconcerting entitlement,” wrote Publishers Weekly.


Q&A with Matthew Gallaway

Matthew Gallaway, 41, of Washington Heights, is author of “The Metropolis Case.”

What led to your decision to include 9/11 as a plot point in “The Metropolis
Because a large part of the book is set in New York City, I thought it was important to acknowledge 9/11, less from a political perspective than an emotional one. By witnessing the event, the character in question is able to confront some particularly painful episodes from his past that, until that point, he had largely avoided.

How have your feelings about 9/11 changed between that day and since finishing your book in 2010? I moved from shock and what, in retrospect, feels like a kind of collective grief to a more complicated mix of emotions. While the shock has dissipated, the grief remains, and I sometimes feel nostalgic about life before 9/11 — particularly with all of the security measures that have understandably been imposed — or angry about the way the event has been hijacked for what I consider to be politically conservative agendas on a national level that are at odds with the way most New Yorkers feel (or at least the New Yorkers I know).

What do you think of the literary community’s response to the tragedy? I think theiterary community has done a great job helping people come to terms with the event, which is a process that will no doubt continue for a very long time. 

What were your readers’ responses to 9/11 as a plot point? It’s been largely favorable, with one exception of a woman who, afterbeing very close to GroundZero on 9/11, felt that she wasn’t ready to read anything about the day — which I think is perfectly understandable.

Follow Emily Ngo on Twitter: @EmilyPhanNgo

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