Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Number 81 Review of Books: Twilight of the Superheroes

I intended to blog from the 81 this evening on the way home, but I didn’t: I was completely lost in the magnificent title story from Deborah Eisenberg’s recently published collection of short stories, Twilight of the Superheroes.

The story centers largely on the experiences of a group of friends who find a fabulous sublet in lower Manhattan just across from the World Trade Center in early 2001. Eisenberg’s language, detached, simple, yet potent, captures all the emotions I had on that Tuesday morning in September, standing in a crowd of people in Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn, among the papers and ashes fluttering down from the smoke that had carried them across the East River, watching the towers fall, all of us trying to convince ourselves that we were not seeing the things before our eyes:
At the moment when all this--as Lucien thinks of it—began, the moment when a few ordinary-looking men carrying box cutters sped past the limits of international negotiation and the frontiers of technology, turning his miraculous city into a nightmare and hurling the future into a void, Lucien was having his croissant and coffee.

The television was saying something. Lucien wheeled around and stared at it, then turned to look out the window; downtown, black smoke was already beginning to pollute the perfect, silken September morning. On the screen, the ruptured, flaming colossus was shedding veils of tiny black specks.

All circuits were busy, of course; the phone might as well have been a toy. Lucien was trembling as he shut the door of the apartment behind him. His face was wet. Outside, he saw that the sky in the north was still insanely blue.
Eisenberg captures, in her odd, seductive prose, the horrors and misery of the months and years after that day, the “flags waved in the brisk air of fear,” the “files . . . demanded from libraries and hospitals,” the “murky wars,” and, above all, the “waiting for that shattering day to unhappen, so that the real—the intended—future, the one that had been implied by the past, could unfold.” But, of course, the day had happened, and "now it was always going to have happened."

I remember looking for a cab in Brooklyn several hours after the towers had fallen. F-16s were buzzing downtown Brooklyn, just a few hours late to the scene. I needed to get back to my apartment in Sunnyside, Queens. I had pretty much resigned myself to walking an hour or two to get there when, miraculously, I flagged an empty cab. The driver was Bengali, like me. “Some day, huh?” he asked. We drove north, in the dazed traffic, with the smoke from lower Manhattan billowing off to the horizon behind us.

I got off the 81 in Eagle Rock this evening after having read this story, five years later, missing Brooklyn and New York with a throbbing ache, thinking how strange it was to be walking home down a street lined with palm trees in Los Angeles, how strange and sad to have left New York after living through that day and the apprehensive years that followed, but also thinking, once again, that there was no going back. Certain things, certain clear blue joys, have been lost to us, irrevocably.

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