Where Is Our Best 9/11 Fiction?
Four bestselling authors were having dinner at Gerard's Place, a quiet Washington restaurant. At one end of the table was George Packer ("Assassins' Gate"). At the other was Rajiv Chandrasekaran ("Imperial Life in the Emerald City," now being made into a movie starring Matt Damon). In the middle were Steve Coll ("Ghost Wars") and Tom Ricks ("Fiasco").
All are journalists who have turned their on-the-ground reporting in dangerous places into riveting, narrative non-fiction about 9/11 and its aftermath, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. An hour earlier, they were featured speakers at The Washington Post Book Club discussion on the war on terror, which was hosted by Book World and to which you can listen on our podcast (beginning Saturday, Feb. 16).
Now, their conversation turned to great fiction about 9/11. And the main question, posed by Packer, was: Where is it, anyway? Why are we still waiting?
Various people at the table tossed out the titles of some fine books and short stories. One noted that some of the best fiction about Vietnam came long after the end of that conflict (Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" was published in 1990; Denis Johnson's "Tree of Smoke" appeared just last year). So maybe it's just too early. Then, again, maybe the all-volunteer military has narrowed the range of Americans who go into combat, and we're still waiting for the right soldier-writer (think Norman Mailer or Joseph Heller) to come along. Or perhaps we're looking in entirely the wrong places: Maybe the great 9/11 novel will not be written by an American.
Maybe it's already out there.
Here are some works of 9/11-related fiction that were mentioned at the table. If you've found a great one, let us know what it is and why you're nominating it. Other readers are certainly looking for the inspired choice.
1. "A Disorder Peculiar to the Country," by Ken Kalfus. A sardonic, witty novel that uses twisted humor to process twisted events.
2. "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," by Mohsin Hamid. Why a Pakistani man fell in, and out of, love with America. Written before 9/11, re-written afterward.
3. "Falling Man," by Don DeLillo. Poker games, performance art and a hijacker named Hammad all play a role in this (deliberately) disjointed narrative.
4. "The Emperor's Children," by Claire Messud. What people worried about in Manhattan just before September 2001. Petty or profound, it's all in the past.
5. "The Writing on the Wall," by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. We seem to have trouble facing facts, both in our personal lives and as a nation.
-- Alan Cooperman
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