Nine years ago today, I sat in a high school classroom watching images of a terrifying, unthinkable tragedy unfolding in my country. No one will never forget where they were that day or what it felt like to be so helpless in the face of pure evil. It is a part of our history, culture and collective consciousness in a way that few events have ever been before.
But is it so much a part of who we are now that it should be mentioned and referenced by authors in contemporary novels? Does it lend to the realism of the book or act as a distraction?
Prior to reading A Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebecca White (great book, highly recommended–especially if you have a sister!) I don’t think I would have had a conclusive answer to that question. To me, September 11th is still a little too fresh, too “real” (if that’s possible) to bring into the fiction world. As an author, I would be afraid that my readers would focus on their personal feelings about that day instead of considering the character’s emotions and ties.
But the way White handled it in her book was perfect. It wasn’t a focal point in the novel, but then for many of us it’s not something we want to be a focal point in our lives either. A hesitation, a pause, maybe a reason to make a few adjustments to our priorities, but if there’s anything we’ve learned from 9/11 it’s that life does go on no matter what. I think White managed to tap into the reader’s own feelings and memories of that day without making it a major distraction to the overall plot of the book.
Maybe someday literature will play a part in how future generations reflect on a major event in our history. Just as other fiction pieces have helped us gain perspective on pivotal events in our history from wars to assassinations to genocide.
What’s your take? Should we include current events in our writing when it’s relevant? Give me a shout on Twitter @shanwrites or leave a comment. I always love to hear what other authors are thinking.