The Writing on the Wall

The Writing on the Wall

2.5 4
by Lynne Sharon Schwartz

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For the first time, one of New York City's major resident authors spins a breathtakingly immediate, intimate family novel set around the September 11th attacks. Thirty-four and decidedly independent, Renata has been known to keep her involvement with people - men in particular - to a minimum. Even her job at the library keeps her at a remove from the uncertainty…  See more details below


For the first time, one of New York City's major resident authors spins a breathtakingly immediate, intimate family novel set around the September 11th attacks. Thirty-four and decidedly independent, Renata has been known to keep her involvement with people - men in particular - to a minimum. Even her job at the library keeps her at a remove from the uncertainty of trusting other people with the stories of her past. Instead, she loses herself in language, always measuring the integrity of words against lived experience. Then Jack, patient, solid and sexy, enters her life. One bright September morning as Renata walks across the Brooklyn Bridge to work, the sky bursts open and change comes without warning. It quickly becomes clear in the days ahead that Renata cannot keep memories of her buried past - of a twin sister, a betrayal, of family truths too ugly to acknowledge - at bay. Written with tremendous compassion and imagination, informed by an abiding love for the people of New York, and crafted by a master storyteller at the height of her powers, "The Writing on the Wall" is a profoundly engaging novel about how one woman saw - and we all continue to ponder - the defining event of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

Carolyn See
The Writing on the Wall might best be read by New Yorkers; it's the kind of book that, like certain fine and very delicate wines, might not "travel" well and tastes best drunk in its own locale. But the author has done an admirable job in chronicling a trauma, monumental in its reach, whose echoes still resound.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
The aftermath of the World Trade Center attack provides a traumatic backdrop to Schwartz's latest novel (after In the Family Way), an intellectually evocative and emotionally trenchant exploration of troubled intimacy and the constitutive effects of language. Renata, a Brooklyn-based 30-something librarian with a gift for recondite tongues, is stymied in her promising affair with fellow Brooklynite Jack by her vows of "emotional celibacy," the result of a long history of family trauma, including the tragic death of her twin sister, Claudia, at age 16. When the Twin Towers are struck, Jack's assistant at his downtown social services agency perishes in the collapse, and he and Renata become the caretakers of her baby, Julio. As Renata develops an obsessive attachment to the baby as well to a mute stray teenager she names after her dead niece, Gianna (born just before Claudia's death), Schwartz artfully reveals the origins of Renata's psychic scars: the twins' overenmeshed relationship, the death of their father and institutionalization of their mother, plus Gianna's mysterious drowning. Renata's emotional wariness links to her suspicions of language in general, which are exacerbated by the president's verbal response to the terrorist attack. With Renata's complex balance of intellectual skepticism, emotional fragility and street smarts, Schwartz continues to show herself a rigorous novelist. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Schwartz's tenth (after Referred Pain, 2004, etc.) may be her riskiest, as it intertwines her familiar fictional territory with the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Things start on a bright September morning when Renata, a linguist, wakes up in bed with her lover, Jack, a recently divorced social worker. After Jack leaves, Renata decides to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to work, but, partway across, she hears screaming and looks across the river to see "a huge marigold bursting open in the sky." With this opening, Schwartz focuses on how the attack evokes past traumas, leaving Renata unmoored and jeopardizing her relationship with Jack. We learn that Renata and her twin sister, Claudia, were close until age 16, when Claudia had a daughter (fathered, it turns out, by their uncle), gave the baby up for adoption, then drowned in a nearby river days later. Renata's father died in a car wreck within the year, and her mother was institutionalized. When Claudia's daughter, Gianna, was three, the adoptive parents dumped her on Renata, then 19. At seven, Gianna was snatched from a park merry-go-round, leaving Renata bereft and guilty. Now 34, Renata has trouble trusting Jack, or anyone, to stay in her life. Schwartz describes the emotional flavor of the days after 9/11 with great clarity, using quotes from speeches by the president, the makeshift signs put up by those in search of the missing, the memorials, the connections neighbors made in the midst of tragedy and the exhaustion of those who, like Jack, went to the scene to help. But it all bogs down in backstory, and Renata's irrational conviction that a mute teenager she finds wandering the streets is her niece isn't believable. Plus,Schwartz undercuts the emotion in scenes between Renata and Jack with detail about Renata's linguistic interest in a culture that has many terms for loss. A valiant effort, but Schwartz doesn't quite pull it off.

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Product Details

Counterpoint Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
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Product dimensions:
7.88(w) x 5.18(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Lynne Sharon Schwartz is the author of nineteen books, including Leaving Brooklyn (nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award), Rough Strife (nominated for the PEN/Hemingway First Novel Award). She has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Foundation for the Arts. She lives in New York City.

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The Writing on the Wall 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Long short story
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because I really liked the description on the front cover, but when I started reading, it really didn't have anything to do with the cover. The sequence of events is totally off compared to the actual story. Making it completely disappointing
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked this book alot. The story and characters were interesting and the feelings about 9/11 were amazing. I would strongly recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I felt this book could have been great, but the author seemed to want to show off her intelligence a bit. Felt like she was too interested in showing her annoyance of George W. Bush. And that took away from my interest in her characters.