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This review is taken from PN Review 189, Volume 36 Number 1, September - October 2009.


9/11 is beginning to find its way into poetry and literature as a characterising event both for people and for our time. Interestingly, the ‘event’ itself is generally not written about. Rather the destruction of the WTC towers is turned almost instantly into a metaphor or organising device for things that occur later and elsewhere. Jay McInerney’s potboiling, but entertaining, The Good Life - a volume in his ongoing survey of luxe Manhattanites - begins on 10 September and then skips the next day to go right to the aftermath. Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland occurs several years after the attacks but everything ramifies and uncoils from the destruction of the towers. It’s almost becoming trite: the towers no longer cast a shadow themselves; their absence does. Frederick Feirstein, a poet and also a psychoanalyst, has made 9/11’s aftermath a central part of his new book Fallout, both in individual poems and as part of his continuation of a poetic saga begun in an earlier book called Manhattan Carnival and now called ‘Dark Carnival’. The protagonist in both sequences is a man called Richard Stern, whose class and status are similar to those of McInerney’s couples. The earlier book was about the narrowly averted self-destruction of his marriage and home. The new cycle brings destruction in from outside, with the death of a son-in-law in the attack and Stern’s subsequent desperate attempt to connect with his wife, widowed daughter, and the whole world that came before.

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