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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
In an extraordinary feat of narrative alchemy, journalist Gail Sheehy turns the dust and ashes of 9/11/01 into literary gold with this fine, affecting study of Middletown, New Jersey, the affluent commuter suburb that lost nearly 50 people in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Over the course of 18 months, Sheehy became intimately involved in the lives of a handful of Middletown residents whose destinies were irrevocably altered that fateful day. And in her skilled hands, their stories -- crackling with unexpected intersections -- reflect not just personal anguish but the shared suffering of a nation in trauma. We see the messy spiral of grief moving forward and looping back: One widow is galvanized into furious political activism, while another retreats into a cocoon of helplessness; traumatized children careen from bewildered rage to sullen withdrawal; and the so-called "lucky ones" who escaped the Towers suffer a toxic combination of post-traumatic stress and survivor's guilt.
The author does not shy away from the human side of tragedy. Between stories of amazing grace, she weaves tales of less-than-noble behavior -- anger at charitable efforts gone awry, suspicions directed at Muslim neighbors, and the inevitable grousing over monetary settlements. Then, slowly, the fractured community begins to mend. Some of the widows begin dating, post-9/11 babies work their magic on grieving families, and connections are forged with survivors of other terrorist bombings.
Unique amid the literature of September 11th, Middletown, America is a thoughtful, carefully observed character study that traces a ravaged community's painful journey from unspeakable grief to the place where hope lives. It is a remarkable achievement. Anne Markowski