What a difference a couple of years make.
In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks in 2001, there was no limit to what people wrote about them.
Months and months of newspaper and magazine stories followed—some of which memorably (and inaccurately) declared the death of irony, reality TV and other annoying cultural fads. But the book industry reacted earnestly, believing that reportage, historical perspective and works of the imagination, all trained upon that monumental event, were the right things to publish. From analyses by journalists who'd covered the events to widows who'd survived them, and even to the novels that imagined the lives of the families left behind, book publishing was trying to make sense of what had happened. Like anybody else, we could only do what we knew how to do—and in our case, that meant “make narrative.”
Never mind that, with very few exceptions (The 9/11 Commission Report, of course), the 9/11 books did not sell well. Whether too early (not enough time to process, some Monday morning quarterbacks announced) or too late (nobody wants to talk about it anymore), 9/11 books gave way to... well, to “regular” fiction and nonfiction. After a couple of years of anniversary publications, the book business, like most of the rest of America, began to move on. The straight-on analyses and obvious story lines had given way to... well, books analyzing the Bush administration's terrorism responses and novels that were only distantly informed by the events of that day. Some were quite a bit more commercially successful (think Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children) than others (Jay McInerney's The Good Life).
So here we are, six years later, and while there is still some public debate over whether we should or should not “still” be mourning publicly, the spate of 9/11 anniversary publishing seems over. Books are coming out on September 11, of course, but to judge from our On-Sale Calendar, none addresses our 9/11 experience directly (although the flap copy for Laura Ingraham's Power to the People from Regnery alludes to it).
But that doesn't—and shouldn't—mean we're done with the topic: on my desk as I write is an extremely wise analysis of how 9/11 has changed our lives. The Terror Dream by Backlash author Susan Faludi argues brilliantly about how that experience has plunged us back into mythic cultural images of heroism and victimhood and the price we, as a culture, are paying for that. (Faludi's take on the rescue of Jessica Lynch, and its recasting by some media and the Bush administration as the myth of the helpless little girl, is alone worth the $26 cover price.)
In Hollywood, they'd call The Terror Dream “Backlash meets 9/11.” And they'd release it as a film on September 11. But this is the book business and, in this case at least, publishing is too sophisticated to confine such smart social analysis to a pat description or to a single page of the calendar. Henry Holt will release The Terror Dream on the very inauspicious date of October 2.
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