The Literature Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained) (2016)

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IN CONTEXT

FOCUS

Post 9/11 America

BEFORE

2001 Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, published on 11 September 2001, foreshadows the concerns of US literature after 9/11.

AFTER

2007 Don DeLillo’s Falling Man is published, detailing the effects of the World Trade Center attacks on the life of a middle-class survivor.

2007 Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist depicts the way in which a middle-class Pakistani-American financial analyst is drawn towards radicalization.

2013 Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge is published, a lively novel touching on financial malfeasance during the dotcom boom, in which 9/11 takes place more than halfway through the story.

The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 caused a huge change in the political and cultural landscape, which literature was sure to tackle sooner or later. But at first many authors struggled with its enormity; after the attacks, leading novelists Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, and Don DeLillo all commented on how the nature of their job felt as if it had changed and become more difficult in ways they did not yet understand. Authors chose different methods to try to make sense of the topic.

A new way of looking

In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer (1977–) explores the after-effects of 9/11 through a young boy, Oskar Schell. Nine months after the attacks, in which his father was killed, Oskar suffers from a depression, which he says is like wearing “heavy boots”. Finding a key left by his father, he embarks on a quest around New York to discover what the key is for, meeting many curious characters along the way. The novel contains unusual stylistic choices: pages are black, or several in a row are left white; words are circled in red; and many photographs appear – of objects, famous personalities, and the Twin Towers themselves. Through such techniques, Safran Foer tries to make us look afresh at 9/11, to find a new way of seeing something so terrible that has also become so familiar.

"There are so many times when you need to make a quick escape, but humans don’t have their own wings, or not yet, anyway."


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

See also: The Corrections • The Reluctant Fundamentalist