Has enough time passed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, for authors to render those tragic events into fiction? For readers left disappointed by hasty attempts from Don DeLillo, Martin Amis, and Jonathan Safran Foer, this new work from Carole Giangrande may offer an enriching alternative. All That Is Solid Melts into Air – a title taken from a line in The Communist Manifesto – is at once a slow rumination on those horrific events and an intense, frighteningly accurate recreation of them.
Protagonist Valerie Lefevre, on a hiking trip to the French island of St. Pierre (off the coast of Newfoundland), is visiting with her husband Gerard’s cousin, Marguerite, on that fateful day. Valerie has a somewhat implausible yet incontrovertible four-pronged connection to the attacks unfolding 1,000 miles to the south of her in Manhattan. Gerard, whom she fears is cheating on her, is in New York on a freelance journalism assignment; their son, Andre, is working in one of the World Trade Center towers; Andre’s partner, James, is working in the other; and Valerie’s former lover, Matthew – to whom she is still close – is scheduled to fly out of Boston that day, and may be aboard one of the hijacked planes.
If you can suspend your disbelief that such a remarkable confluence of people could converge in this way, what Giangrande offers is a rich portrait of one woman’s emotionally wrought inner world, and an illustration of the way history has dropped its hammer upon that world time and time again. Giangrande weaves in references to the October Crisis of 1970, a Swissair bombing from that same year (which killed a former lover of Gerard’s), and other events that have helped shape Valerie into who she is.
While Giangrande’s symbolism is at times heavy-handed – the constant ticking of clocks is more distracting than evocative – she makes up for it with prose that absolutely shimmers. What’s more, her recapitulation of what it was like to watch 9/11 unfold on television is engrossing in its verisimilitude. DeLillo, Amis, and Foer could learn a thing or two from her.