Today Quiet Bubble, who lives and blogs in Jackson, Miss., cites a Slate article that asks, "Has art helped you make sense of 9/11?" QB answers, and asks others for their responses, too. Here is my take.
In August of 2001 I finished Richard Yates's novel Revolutionary Road, and was so overwhelmed that I even gave away the collection of his short stories that I had bought earlier in the year. No more Richard Yates for me, I thought. Set in the fifties, Revolutionary Road is the story of a couple in a Northeastern suburb, whose relationship is blown to smithereens. Grim, at times funny (well, perhaps accurate in its depiction of suburban mores), and upsetting as all get-out, Revolutionary Road capped off my summer's reading in 2001. I was ready for a break after that.
Then September 11th. I read hardly anything for a month after that except the newspaper. I called. I e-mailed. My friends and former colleagues in New York were okay. Every day I read the New York Times' capsule portraits of the dead. I read that feature for as long as it ran. A year? I don't even remember. I cried as I read.
The crisp September air, the clear blue sky and, later, its silence explained nothing, although I kept looking up as if I would see answers. Except for children's books to my son, I read very little fiction for a long time afterward. I read memoirs instead. They didn't explain anything, either, but they were easy to read. As the mother of a toddler, I liked easy-to-read.
A year and a half later I picked up Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx. Not a memoir but a nonfiction account of a poverty-stricken group of people, told from the point of view of the folks themselves. Finely written in novelistic fashion, Random Family was both unsparing and sympathetic. LeBlanc's chronicle of desperation and the occasional ray of hope did explain some of the inner city. In contrast to the memoirs, it was about someone else, not the author, and that wider viewpoint, the interest in the bigger world, appealed to me. It did not concern 9/11 at all, but I slowly began to read more widely again after that.
9/11 still does not make sense. But I do hold onto the ray of hope, even though I can't always see it in the sky.