The Writing on the Wall
By Lynne Sharon Schwartz
Counterpoint, 297 pp., $24
In the aftermath of 9/11, lives were lost, dreams dashed. But other lives were found, other dreams reborn, reimagined, reshaped. In this poignant and powerful novel, Lynne Sharon Schwartz imagines a complex private life brought into focus through a public tragedy.
Renata is a twin, deeply attached to her sister, Claudia. When teenage Claudia dies grimly alone, after giving up her baby following a pregnancy she would not discuss, Renata mourns, suspects, but does not pry. Years later, after the twin towers have fallen and signs posted in lower Manhattan display photos of orphans, waifs, wanderers, Renata believes she has found her missing niece. Renata's quest, almost comically misguided, leads her to understand her own grief and loss, in connection to the larger political response, and to connect her own tragedy to larger ones that surround her. Other novels have made this attempt, but this is the first that feels fully realized, extrapolating from 9/11 not out to public outrage but deep inside to the private demons that emerge in the wake of tragedy and do their own danse macabre.
Tenney's Landing: Stories
By Catherine Tudish
Scribner, 288 pp., $24
''History will come and find you, even in your little town."
Founded in the mid-18th century at a pleasant turning of the Monongahela River close to what would become Pittsburgh, the fictional town of Tenney's Landing prospered with the times and the land. Immigration, the Depression, and the world wars succeeded one another, alongside quilt raffles, chicken suppers, outbreaks of childhood disease.
People here have long memories and generous responses. Carrie, in ''The Springhouse," returns to Tenney's Landing after a difficult marriage and a career as a journalist. She is welcomed back to her parents' home, given a job on the local paper, and allowed to be part of the ongoing life of the town. Soon she finds herself attracted to Gerald, drawn into his boat-building project, comfortable in his kitchen with his skinny former girlfriend and her child. Gerald's most ambitious scheme, to reopen the ferry at Tenney's Landing, combines and concludes many of the earlier stories in the collection. The first informal but successful outing of the ferry proves Gerald's boat seaworthy, reverses an old lady's ancient fear of water, and returns the town to its earliest source of pride and prosperity.
Her Body Knows:Two Novellas
By David Grossman
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 272 pp., $23
''Frenzy," the first of these two novellas, is earnest, tedious, and obscure -- a difficult combination. The frenzied worrier is Shaul, a respected Israeli, long and happily married to a voluptuous, spirited woman. During the course of a nighttime drive on Israel's highways, Shaul confesses to his sister-in-law his certainty that his wife has been having a daily 10-year love affair. He is obsessed with the details of the affair, how his wife organizes it, conceals, revels in it, requires it. As Shaul's fearful and repetitive details spin out into the darkness, a reader becomes tired, doubtful, suspicious. Obsession and jealousy can bloom anywhere, even now in the reclaimed and fertile plains of Israel.
In ''Another Life," a young woman returns to Israel to be with her mother, dying of cancer. She brings along her fictional account of a woman very like her own larger-than-life mother, perhaps her own corrected, accused, and forgiven version of her parent. As the daughter reads the story aloud to her mother, both recognize the story as more than it is, containing truth, lies, fantasies, but most of all embodying a final if imperfect communication both can understand, accept, and appreciate.
Barbara Fisher is a freelance critic who lives in New York.