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Rachel-K
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9/11

Is it surprising or uncomfortable to you to read of the events of 911 in a novel? It is a daring inclusion in a “comedy of manners,” How do you feel it is handled here? Is it possible to ask what “role” such a devastating, recent, and real event can play in a novel?

In the NYTimes, Meghan O’Rourke says of this inclusion, “Startlingly, this element of the novel feels entirely organic, an accurate summation of what did and did not change on that day.” Do you agree?
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Walrus
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Re: 9/11

I bought the book in softcover and had not read any reviews. I did not note any year in the book -only months. (By the way the chapter title were very clever) SO I was surprised and shocked about 9/11. The question to ask not only the characters in the book but ourselves as well is How did 9/11 change us??? It may have contributed to some people joining the military and to others to live each day to the fullest. I always knew there were evil people willing to die to kill others and survival is a matter of luck. Every day may be your last. Bad things happen to good people. But in N.Y.C. 9/11 is somewhat sacred and not to be trifled with. It will never be forgotten. Who can get on aplane and not think about hitting some building? So I did not think 9/11 had to be included to make the characters wake up. My daughter worked in a nearby building and saw the horror close up. She took refuge in a basement for three hours and then walked home to the upper eastside. All the while we did not know where she was- cellphones did not work. It was not a lark in the park. My hospital in Westchester has an excellent burn unit and E.R., we were on standby for patients via helicopter,but did not receive one patient. The chairs in the Windows of the World were ugly orange art deco- my daughter wanted to cover them for her wedding but it was too expensive. I spoke to people who worked on the pile- not one chair was recognizable. The chef survived because he had an eye exam. The manager took his son to school and was late to work. Someone else overslept. Pure Luck! AAm I the only one who feels this way?
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IBIS
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Re: 9/11

[ Edited ]
In another post, Claire Messud wrote that 9/11 was a historic marker; I agree that going fowards, we will divide American history into Before 9/11 and After 9/11.

Before 9/11, the possibility that thousands of Americans could die on American soil, in NYC, was inconceivable. All the wars we fought -- WWI and WWII, Korea, Vietnam -- were never on our homefront. The devastation of cities was always somewhere else -- Europe, Asia, Africa. But never in the US.

But 9/11 opened our eyes, and took away our innocence. We now know that we can be destroyed right here in NYC, on American soil. We are no longer protected by the Pacific or the Atlantic Oceans. It's a devastating history lesson.

The characters in THE EMPEROR'S CHILDREN are innocents -- they lived in pre-9/11 NYC. Like the emperor in the fairy tale, they believed they were beautifully dressed. They thought they had total control of their world. They took their privileged lives for granted -- because they did not know what was coming. Once 9/11 struck NYC, everything changed.

I felt that having 9/11 drop suddenly into the story is exactly right. The suddeness of it is precisely what sharpens the contrast of before and after the devastation. No one suspected anything.

Into the lives of this microcosm of privileged and entitled New Yorkers, fly two jumbojets that will forever change not only the landscape of their lives, but the landscape of NYC as well.

Their worldview underwent a paradigm shift. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Message Edited by IBIS on 10-06-2007 08:37 PM
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
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Rachel-K
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Re: 9/11

Ibis,

You make a wonderfully interesting point in comparing the pre 9-11 story to a fairy tale, and the characters as "innocents." It changes the possibility of the novel being a comedy of manners, doesn't it? Does it make this work of nostalgia? I think that term is an overstatement, maybe, but can't think of a better one. Nostalgia for the loss of frivolity?
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Walrus
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Re: 9/11

I agree with IBIS who expressed very well what I was trying to say, but 9/11 was not the first wake up call or loss of innocence. What about the 1993 bombing of the World Trade? At the trial it was stated that the buildings could withstand the force of a 747. They forgot to mention one loaded with fuel. I think everyone goes thru their first loss of innocence when they realize they will someday die- no matter what. For me I remember exactly the time and place. I was 8 years old and on a long walk with relatives after a heavy Thanksgiving dinner. We walked around a park and an adjoining cemetery and it dawned on me that sooner or later, I would also end up here. If a car jumped the curb, it could be now. If I got sick it could be next month and if I was very lucky it could be when I reached 100. In years past, they worried about plagues and war. Has anything changed? How have you personally changed since 9/11? I believe something will someday occur on the subway, but yet I still use the subway and while not sparky clean doesn't smell of piss. Way before 9/11 I refused to buy an apt. on the 46th floor with great view of Hudson River be cause I remembered a small plane hitting the Empire State when I was a child. Perhaps, we donate more to charities or pay more attention to politics than before. Some may pray more. I'll never forget one patient I took care of-she was a lovely woman who was a paraplegic. She thrombosed a spinal artery with resulting paralysis as she knelt in church to pray. Figure that out. Sorry for the digression- I guess I am becoming linear with age. Would like feedback on personal change- any career changes due to 9/11 or really due to other reasons?
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bobzyeruncle
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Registered: ‎09-25-2007
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Re: 9/11



Walrus wrote:
I still use the subway and while not sparky clean doesn't smell of piss.




Oooh, I'm gonna have to beg to differ with you on that. July and August in the subway? A brutal attack on the senses and, as they say, you know Urine New York. And not just in the subway. I was back last month ... you either forget or get used to all the aromas (some plesant, others notsomuch) that bombard you in Manhattan. Not to mention how loud it is. I lived there for twelve years ... it's amazing how quickly you forget, and how relatively quiet a big city like London can be.



Walrus wrote:
Would like feedback on personal change- any career changes due to 9/11 or really due to other reasons?




I lived in Chelsea and worked in midtown during 9/11. I only know of one person who made an immediate change ... a guy who worked down the hall from me at my firm and decided to bail out of the city with his girlfriend and move back home to a small town. He lived in Battery Park, so it did hit home.

We've since moved away (and I've had a career change), but that had nothing to do with 9/11.

Several friends and colleagues were closer to (or at) Ground Zero than I was, altough 23rd Street seemed awfully close at the time. One, like Bootie, was on a tube (erm, the subway) coming in from Brooklyn during the time the second tower fell. Another friend worked on Wall Street and had the windows in his office building blown out. None of my extended circle left the city or changed careers, although I'm certain that must have happened. There *were* several months of 'anthrax fear' but that all seems to have gone away. And when the dirty bomb goes off in the subway (heaven forbid), we'll all be even more afraid again.

Or will we get used to it? I live in London now and was here for the 7/7 bombings (I like to hit all the good terrorist attacks). It was amazing to see people reacting so differently than they did on 9/11. "Is it bombs then?" I heard a guy calmly ask someone on his mobile, and then he said, "Alright, let me know when you hear something." Then he snapped his phone shut and carried on with his walk. My friends here told me that after living through IRA bombings for so many years, you just learn to deal with it.

Scary.

Walrus -- a quick question. Do you remember the weather on the night of the 10th? Would it have been a good night for a helicopter ride?

I recall being out with friends that night and getting totally soaked. It made the morning of the 11th all the more glorious ... the fresh blue skies after a terrible downpour, like the city had been washed clean. I sat on my terrace from 8-8:30, perched on my zafu and had the most lovely meditation. A soft focus on the tops of the WTC, taking in the amazing morning air and thinking how lucky I was to be in New York and how we'd had so much fun the night before.

Forty minutes later ... it had all changed. On one level, yes ... Amercia lost its innocence, because of the scope of the disaster. It was bigger than the '93 bombing. It proved we were vulnerable, not just in NY but at the Pentagon and, perhaps, nearly at the White House.

I think, for those of us who live (or lived) in NY, 9/11 brought lots of change (increased visibiliy of security, more automatic weapons in the street, riduculous hassles at the airport) in the way we live, but ultimately, six years later, I don't know that we as individuals have changed that much. We react to the atrocities (whether they be natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or your best friend's dad unexpectedly dying of leukemia) as they happen, and then we go back to our day-to-day lives.
:: :: ::

Bob
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ClaireMessud
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Re: 9/11

Ok - I've got to say that if I hadn't personally smelled piss in the NY subway, I wouldn't have had my characters smell it. In the summertime, the subway smells of a lot of pretty unpleasant things. And I don't even have a particularly acute sense of smell.

About 9/11: here's the deal: I didn't set out to write a 9/11 novel. In early 2001, I began a contemporary novel set in New York. I set it aside to give birth to our first child, in the summertime. 9/11 happened in September. I thought I wouldn't go back to the novel, but eventually I did, and began again from the beginning. The novel was very different, although the characters were the same. It was not a gratuitous decision to throw 9/11 in there, it was a simple historical fact with which I had to contend. It would have felt to me like cheating, to change the setting of my novel to Alaska, or to change the time period to 2000, or 1999, for my own convenience. For me, there was an organic imperative to address the realities of that time, because I had been writing about that time, and these events erupted into that time.

I don't claim to have written a novel "about" 9/11 in anyway - that was not at all my intention. I wrote a novel about a group of characters living in New York in the year 2001. In my mind was Flaubert's SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION, into which the Revolution of 1848 erupts, quite suddenly: the characters are living their lives, they round the corner & encounter the barricades, they're surprised, & scared; they go away & go on with their lives & go for a picnic. It seemsto me that that's what life is like, even in a time of extremity & tragedy, for those who aren't directly wounded by it.

It seems to me, too, that this is what fiction does best: not to relate the grand scheme of history, but to try to explore & illuminate how such times are experienced by individual ordinary people. They aren't by any means "representative" people, they're just individuals.


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ClaireMessud
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Re: 9/11

By the way - about career/life changes: I know personally at least half a dozen people who made direct changes as a result of 9/11.
-An Australian lawyer friend who had been 15 years in Hong Kong & then the US moved her family back to Sydney.
-A colleague at Amherst College where I was then teaching moved with his wife & small child to the West Coast, because he felt that if life were going to be short, he wanted to be there.
-A financial hot-shot sold up & moved to my parents' town in Connecticut to become a bookseller, because if life was going to be short, that's what she wanted to be doing. She runs a terrific independent bookstore there.
-A friend of mine fled Washington DC for her native Boston, with her husband & child, on account of the low flying planes & the military presence & her certainty that she'd be bombed, sooner or later.
That's just a few. There was a baby boom - it's been recorded. Even if you didn't happen to know them, plenty of people changed their lives dramatically. And a certain number -- around 20, I think -- took that opportunity simply to disappear from their lives. It was known from their use of credit cards & bank accounts that they didn't die, but they didn't come home, either.
By the way, if you're living in London, have you read Alan Hollinghurst's THE LINE OF BEAUTY? It is a remarkable book, and captures that city in the '80s like nothing else I've read. And he's a beautiful writer. That said, if you're concerned about finding the characters nice, I don't think you'll care for it.


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Popper19
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Re: 9/11



ClaireMessud wrote:
By the way - about career/life changes: I know personally at least half a dozen people who made direct changes as a result of 9/11.
-An Australian lawyer friend who had been 15 years in Hong Kong & then the US moved her family back to Sydney.
-A colleague at Amherst College where I was then teaching moved with his wife & small child to the West Coast, because he felt that if life were going to be short, he wanted to be there.
-A financial hot-shot sold up & moved to my parents' town in Connecticut to become a bookseller, because if life was going to be short, that's what she wanted to be doing. She runs a terrific independent bookstore there.
-A friend of mine fled Washington DC for her native Boston, with her husband & child, on account of the low flying planes & the military presence & her certainty that she'd be bombed, sooner or later.
That's just a few. There was a baby boom - it's been recorded. Even if you didn't happen to know them, plenty of people changed their lives dramatically. And a certain number -- around 20, I think -- took that opportunity simply to disappear from their lives. It was known from their use of credit cards & bank accounts that they didn't die, but they didn't come home, either.
By the way, if you're living in London, have you read Alan Hollinghurst's THE LINE OF BEAUTY? It is a remarkable book, and captures that city in the '80s like nothing else I've read. And he's a beautiful writer. That said, if you're concerned about finding the characters nice, I don't think you'll care for it.




Even though I live in a rural small town in Wisconsin, 9/11 has impacted my life. One thing that I've never heard before regarding 9/11 is that people actually used it as an opportunity to just up and remove themselves from their pre-9/11 lives. It amazes me that many people had the inclination to just walk away. They must have been really unhappy. I am almost glad for them, until I remember that their loved ones must have been and probably still are tormented by their absence.

I really enjoyed the book. It gave me a lot to think about. Thanks for joining the conversation.
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Peppermill
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Re: 9/11


Popper19 wrote:

ClaireMessud wrote:
...And a certain number -- around 20, I think -- took that opportunity simply to disappear from their lives. It was known from their use of credit cards & bank accounts that they didn't die, but they didn't come home, either.
Even though I live in a rural small town in Wisconsin, 9/11 has impacted my life. One thing that I've never heard before regarding 9/11 is that people actually used it as an opportunity to just up and remove themselves from their pre-9/11 lives. It amazes me that many people had the inclination to just walk away. They must have been really unhappy. I am almost glad for them, until I remember that their loved ones must have been and probably still are tormented by their absence.

I really enjoyed the book. It gave me a lot to think about. Thanks for joining the conversation.
Popper -- I just tried to find an article that elaborated on this aspect of 9/11, but wasn't successful. I certainly remember those stories at the time -- probably in the NYT. (I live in one of the NJ communities heavily hit by the tragedy.) Perhaps someone else can have better success than I just did?
"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Walrus
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Re: 9/11

I truly thank everyone, especially Claire M, for replying to my question. The answer probably lies in between. Those people who could change careers and locations did, others would have liked to change but were stuck. Reminds me of Europe- some saw it comming and left- others were caught in the Holocaust. It takes much courage to leave. However, those people who used 9/11 to escape their former life9like Bootie) are in my opinion the bottom feeders. It is also so true that most go on with their lives and grow accustomed to horror. Haven't heard anyone upset about Dafur at parties, but everyone has an opinion about pale male hawk's nest. The book was going along just great but it seemed Murray reacted only momentarily to 9/11 when one would have thought of all the characters, he would have been the most affected. Maybe he is that selfish????? What do you think???Please excuse spelling and typing errors, but glad to see others are no longer so perfect as time goes on.Also last word the stations at times when hot do smell, the subway(train car) has A/C and generally do not smell. Our system is not as nice as Russia, England, France and Japan and needs work.
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IBIS
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Registered: ‎11-22-2006
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Re: 9/11

[ Edited ]


rkubie wrote:
You make a wonderfully interesting point in comparing the pre 9-11 story to a fairy tale, and the characters as "innocents." It changes the possibility of the novel being a comedy of manners, doesn't it? Does it make this work of nostalgia? I think that term is an overstatement, maybe, but can't think of a better one. Nostalgia for the loss of frivolity?



Rachel, I think that any book about New York City written before 9/11 is a period piece, even if written only a few years ago, in the sense that they depict a world that's (perhaps temporarily) gone, certainly forever changed.

This book is certainly a fairy tale period piece...

Edited by Admin. for formatting only.

Message Edited by Jessica on 10-25-2007 03:48 PM
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
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Peppermill
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Re: 9/11


rkubie wrote:...In the NYTimes, Meghan O’Rourke says of this inclusion, “Startlingly, this element of the novel feels entirely organic, an accurate summation of what did and did not change on that day.” Do you agree?

Was looking for something else tonight when I stumbled across this article. Some of it seems relevant and perhaps informative to the discussion here on the realism of the impact of 9/11 on lives. Tidbits may even be useful yet today in supporting others or even ourselves.

Community Crisis Response Team Training Manual: Second Edition
Chapter Four: Long-Term Stress Reactions
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/publications/infores/crt/pdftxt/chap4.txt
"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Fozzie
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Re: 9/11

This was not the first book I have read which has included September 11, 2001, nor will it be the last. I don’t consider any of the books I have read to be about September 11th, so to speak. September 11 was part of the time period during which the novel was set. Just as historical fiction novels set during particular times in history reflect what people were doing and thinking at those times in those places, so The Emperor’s Children reflects what the characters were doing and thinking in New York City during 2001.

I participated in a B&N discussion with Chris Bohjalian and found his response to my questioning his mention of September 11 very revealing and one that I always think about when people question the mention of September 11 in a novel:

"Before You Know Kindness, includes a couple of references to Sept. 11, but does not deal with the event directly. For reference, one instance is when a teenage boy at the club is being raised by his grandparents because both his parents were killed on 9/11 (I did not mark a page reference on it). Another instance occurs on page 243, where Keenan Barrett is thinking about it. I took particular notice of his thought that, "He hoped the anniversary would never become an excuse for retail sales bonanzas the way Washington's Birthday and Memorial Day had, but you never knew:" That is an unsettling thought.

My question is this: Why did you include September 11 in this novel? These were details that could have easily been eliminated, but, clearly, you chose to mention them. "

"Great question. Sept. 11 is included because I do not believe it is possible for a family to be living in Manhattan (such as the McCulloughs or Nan Seton) and not be profoundly aware of 9/11 on Sept. 11th. This book, by necessity, has many scenes that occur in September. Consequently, I would either have had to set the novel before 2001, or referenced the horrible realities of that day in the novel."
Laura

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