(i've just finished claire messud's much-buzzed-about the emperor's children, which might as well be subtitled the way we lived then. it's excellent. read it before oprah puts a sticker on it, as happened to the much-buzzed-about novel i was reading exactly five years ago today.
9/11 happens in the emperor's children. it's neither as near as world trade center nor as far away as mcewan's saturday. it is the first 9/11 book or film i've chosen to encounter; i don't think i need to see a film--the memory is all visual; i'm not sure i need another book now.
my birthday falls four days after the 11th; that year, it was on a saturday. the weekend, when one is robbed of their routine. time meant for other pursuits. yet that week, it was all as one, since i was off the rest of the week, and the media coverage was constant. my birthday passed happily unnoticed, but it made me think of people whose birthdays were on the 11th, about albums released that day (i still remember jay-z & mercury rev; dylan i didn't learn about until later)--about anniversaries & births. and, too, about private tragedies completely unrelated to that day's events. if it was your fiftieth wedding anniversary, were you allowed to celebrate? if your fiancé/e called it off, could you grieve?
the most moving moment of messud's book is not the handling of 9/11, which is minimal, but precisely such a private loss as i've mentioned, a grief observed in a window that once looked out onto the towers, as smoke & ash & the smell of fuel overwhelmed. "she had seen these things and had been left, forever, because in light of these things she did not matter."
let's get it out of the way : here is what i was writing then, saved on the 9/11 digital archive, unalterable, frozen in amber.
but what the emperor's children reminded me of was the subject of an entry i'd written the next week. "the posters," messud writes, "thick and thickening like some mad foliage, each with its photographs, its carefree snap at a wedding, a beach, a picnic, and its plea, shone white in the dusk, and people circulated, quietly, wet-faced, examining them."
i never cried when it happened. my mother did, copiously, much of it probably b/c she wouldn't hear from me for hours; but to this day, she still wells up when she hears "God bless america." two miles from the wtc, i suppose i was neither close enough nor far enough away, too wrapped up in just getting out of new york & getting home, having at the time only seen the first plane hit, cut off from any reliable news source (but not from lots of gossip & secondhand accounts; the last information i'd heard was that a tower fell, this as an elevator door closed in front of me). i cried last night, remembering & in remembrance--and maybe i used the opportunity, as so many in the emperor's children do, to shed a tear or two for my own personal losses & disappointments, reflected in this wondrous piece of fiction.)