"The great September 11 novel has not been written yet and maybe it never will."

Out of the BlueLast week, critic Mark Athitakis’s blog American Fiction Notes featured an interview with Kristiaan Versluys author of Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel.

In the interview, Versluys discusses some of the writers included in his study, including Don DeLillo, Art Spiegelman, Jonathan Safran Foer, and John Updike. He also considers the novels in light of the ways in which novels grapple with traumatic events.

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Q: Critics have been largely (though not uniformly) unkind to the books you discuss, and you elaborate on some of the reasons why. Writing about Falling Man, you note that “the characters are so thin that their whole existence boils down to mere nomenclature” and that “no narrative momentum is allowed to develop.” You note the “flatness” of Grandpa’s character in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and the “soppy happy ending” of Terrorist. But you also point out many rewarding characteristics of these novels that you believe critics missed. Do you feel the negative critical reaction to these books is related more to their unconventional structures and approaches, or more to the way they are, as you write, “subversive of nationalistic imperatives”?

KV: Let’s be clear about one point: the great September 11 novel has not been written yet and maybe it never will. To a point, the negative critical reactions are justified and understandable. No writer has yet been able to capture the magnitude of the event or the shock it produced. The unsayable remains unsaid. The negative critical reactions might, therefore, be understood as the result of disappointment. Here is an event that cries out for a definitive reading and it is not forthcoming. Nonetheless, there is much more to these books than some reviewers have spotted. My study is a tribute to the few writers who have been courageous enough to tackle an impossible topic. Even though they succeeded only partially, there is much insight to be gained from their efforts.

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