Eight hundred miles from Ground Zero | Bleader

Eight hundred miles from Ground Zero

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* For Rolling Stone's outstanding 9/11 issue, which came out just after the attacks, David Foster Wallace wrote about the events from his perspective in Bloomington-Normal. A recording of Wallace reading the essay is available here (mp3). I think that people who went through the day outside of New York and DC--which is to say most of us--will find his experience of trying to connect what was happening to the view of it on television terribly familiar. This was the point where I realized for all the heat about DFW's crazy postmodern craziness, his moral outlook is more straightforward than I'd assumed, and that it would only become more so. Perhaps he was also realizing this about the same time. If so, he would not have been alone.

* Bayo Ojikutu's Free Burning starts its story with the attacks, after which a south-side insurance salesman loses his job and winds up pushing dope. Ojikutu gives the event one fiery paragraph:

"Then they went and flew airplanes into the buildings out east. I remember watching the Today Show, before I ran out to catch the 8:03 Jeffrey Boulevard bus, how those blasts cracked the company's nut wide open. By the time I got to work, fools in tall temples like GMIC's cried about what they would do if freedom appeared in the windows (up higher than the thirty-second story even) like so. Dark, raging, goddamned freedom, coming at the temple two hundred mph, and a few thousand degrees hot, what they would and wouldn't do. What could they? Cry some more, or run, though freedom flew faster than light, so fast that fools couldn't even see it moving most times? What that window reflected was truth itself, freedom indeed, and that muthafucka was too fast, and on fire. What you gonna do, fool? Jump? Please. You might as well stay right here, watch it come in clear, and count yourself among the blessed first."

* In his debut novel, Then We Came to the End, Joshua Ferris caps the denouement, the dissolution of the advertising office that makes up the world of the book, during the first week of September 2001. He then skips forward to a coda set in 2006.

"Everyone ordered martinis in Tom's honor, and toasted him as a patriot and a scholar, a good soldier, and a lousy corporate citizen. We thanked him for sending outlandish e-mails, for the antics inspired by his consumption of two martinis at lunch, and for all the crazy shit he did that in hindsight had provided us with a lot of entertainment, without which our afternoons would have been longer and our lives more dull. He had been killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan."

New York being both the focal point of the attacks and the American publishing world, most of what will be viewed as "9/11 novels" have and will come from that city's authors, such as Jonathan Safran Foer, Don DeLillo, and Claire Messud. From this distance, where everything changed less distinctly, writers are measuring the impact from its echoes.

Also: Monica Kendrick went to New York immediately after the attack and aided workers at Ground Zero. In December 2001 she reflected on her time there in the Reader. This reminiscence about pre-9/11 NYC--a city I've still never been to--got to me: "[W]e'd motor around the harbor for hours, up the East River, up the Hudson, across the Staten Island ferry's wake, and back and forth below Manhattan's tip, where even the lifelong New Yorkers among us were openly awed at the sheer mass and density of skyscrapers that appeared to be floating on the thinnest of wafers. The World Trade Center alone seemed to have enough weight to sink the island, or at least tip it to one side."

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