Tag Archives: 9/11

The shadow of 9/11 looms over the lives of an otherwise privileged generation.

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck: A Novel, by Ann Beattie. Viking. 288 pages. Hardcover $25.00

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck, Ann Beattie’s 21st book, is extremely smart: edgy, infectious, witty, and yet a bit brooding. Some readers will wonder if it is too smart; if, in style and tone, intelligence has conquered feeling in paralyzing ways. It certainly seems to have done so in several of the major characters. They are oddly desperate and oddly blocked. 

We meet Ben and his classmates during their senior year at Bailey Academy, a co-ed New Hampshire boarding school designed to discover and promote the ambitions of a privileged generation — and/or its parents.

Beattie’s handling of how these classmates interact, especially how they speak to one another, is remarkable. So is the anonymous narrating voice, who seems, at times, like an invisible overseer of the teenagers’ potentialities and handicaps — like someone who may have graduated from Bailey a decade or so back and can guess what they’re going through.

Positioned somewhere in between this voice and those of the students is Pierre LaVerdere’s. This master teacher is a complex personality who challenges his students in ways that don’t always seem responsible. LaVerdere manages the school’s honor society, but honor means different things to different people.

Beattie

LaVerdere is youthful and easily relates to his charges. Sometimes, he seems too close to them; sometimes, his closeness feels like an act — a test. He is a brilliant talker who knows how to take full advantage of his charm. But one suspects a hollowness within.

The students are going through the usual crises: Their nuclear families are breaking down through divorce and/or illness. Generational tensions are accelerating. In September of 2001, the fall of the Manhattan towers and part of the Pentagon introduces an unfathomable element into their lives.

Has something about dependable dreams and life patterns changed forever?

Beattie, to her credit, resists the temptation of laying it on too thick. She carefully times the occurrences, character, and intensity of her 9/11 references. They invade Ben’s consciousness — or the reader’s — in ways that compromise progress in Ben’s adult life. He and his Bailey cohort are having trouble betting on the future or even gauging the “really” in “What do I really want?”

To read the entire review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here:  A Wonderful Stroke of Luck

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Can ISIS outdo the 9/11 day of horror?

Isis in the City, by EE Hunt. Xlibris. 365 pages. Hardcover $29.99, Trade paperback $19.99.

Let me say this up front: I am reviewing this book because of its interesting and timely premise, its well-imagined action, and its fairly well-drawn characters. However, I am fully aware of its shortcomings: awkward sentence constructions, missing words, typos, and a general lack of professional editing. I still think it’s worth the reader’s time. 

Mr. Hunt (I don’t know which of his clerical and academic titles to use) takes readers into the very possible scenario of a small cadre of Islamic extremists planning something like a repeat performance of 9/11. One, named Nadir, seems to be a truly able leader, while another – Assad –  is a compulsive complainer and uncharacteristically tall. The remaining two, Amin and Khalid, are not sharply individualized until one of them is tapped to take on a particularly important role. We eavesdrop on their planning sessions and their attempts to keep a low profile in established Muslim neighborhoods. Mr. Hunt does a fine job of tracing their day to business, their hopes, and their fears.

That is, he gets into their heads so that we sense the degree of their radicalization.

We follow them as they carry out two missions of destruction. One is set at a Times Square area theater. They attack the theater audience and anyone else in the vicinity, including law enforcement officers. They chose the right time for maximum chaos. They are largely successful, even though their attack was anticipated.

Mr. Hunt provides alternating chapters and sections of chapters. Those not focused on the terrorists focus on another team of four. This is the counterterrorist team that includes Lieutenant Sherry Williams, the courageous and shapely team leader; Ted, her husband-to-be and FBI agent; and Charles, CIA representative and love interest to the formidable Fatima – the Muslim voice of peaceful coexistence who hates the hijacking of her religion.

The interactions of the couples and this tightly bonded foursome are carefully and credibly portrayed, especially as the time drawers near for the major terrorist event.

What could be more powerfully symbolic for the terrorists than destroying the National September 11 Memorial & Museum? What could be more disheartening for American patriots – and especially security workers – than such a catastrophe?

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 20, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 21 issues of the Naples and other editions, click on link or copy and paste this URL: https://fortmyers.floridaweekly.com/pageview/viewer/2017-09-20#page=52

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My 9/11

united-states-naval-academy-photoShortly before 8:55am on September 11, 2001, I entered my Literature of War course in Sampson Hall at the United States Naval Academy. We were still near the beginning of the semester, the last semester of my college teaching career. The midshipmen looked uncharacteristically confused and unsettled. One of them asked me to turn on the television. They’d heard about some enormous calamity. Soon we were magnetized, almost traumatized, by repeat footage of the initial collision of an aircraft with one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. As the mix of news, conjecture, and wild rumor accumulated, it was suddenly ramped up by news and pictures of another plane blasting into the other tower.
It wasn’t long before we all suspected that our lives had changed dramatically. Our personal lives and our lives as U. S. citizens. These young men and women were processing their futures as junior officers in the United States Navy or Marine Corps. We talked a bit about what was going on. Facts were few. Still, there was something about the mids that impressed me. They were ready, or committed to being ready, for whatever was out there. They would not turn away from their responsibilities. That determination was written on their faces and in their voices. Also, they were smart enough to be afraid. I was proud of them. I still am.

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BOOK BEAT 57 – Aram Schefrin

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   November 14-20, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

Aram Schefrin is one of the 30,000 authors who has published through the services of AuthorHouse, but clearly he is one of those self-published writers who deserves the status of a traditional publisher and a prestige imprint. His fourth novel, “Marwan: The Autobiography of a 9/11 Terrorist,” is a taut, well-paced exploration of a key episode in contemporary history. Suspenseful and illuminating, “Marwan” is brilliantly balanced between the compelling narration of known facts and the imaginative response to unanswered questions.

Who are these people who could find themselves attracted to the suicide mission of flying American airliners into the towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and, if all had gone according to plan, the Capitol Building? What shaped them? What made their destinies inevitable? How did they relate to one another? How did they form their opinions about the United States and its purposes? How convinced were they of the holiness of their martyrdom? How pure was their Islamic faith? Schefrin examines these and other questions in the course of his bi-level narrative that moves along two timelines. 

One timeline begins in autumn of 1996, when several of the principal players are first brought together in Hamburg, Germany. This timeline unpacks in chapters that alternate with those fleshing out another timeline that moves forward from its June 2000 point of attack in New York City. The earlier timeline is narrated in the third person by a voice that stays, for the most part, outside of the characters’ heads. Its sequence of events eventually catches up to the second timeline, which is Marwan’s narrative – his so-called autobiography. Here Schefrin gives us an intimate portrait of his title character’s thoughts and feelings – and his frequent stretches of ambivalence and confusion.

One could take issue with the autobiography premise: the dead don’t write memoirs, and it would have been much easier to accept the discovery of a secret journal. But perhaps Schefrin wondered how Marwan’s journal-keeping could have been kept hidden from his demanding, commanding leader – Atta. At any rate, this logical leap is finally worth the risk as it enables us so fully to share the principal character’s experiences. (Or perhaps he is writing from Paradise, with or without the 72 Virgins.)

Some readers will be offended by the book, as it may seem to ask for sympathy with its characters’ views and, finally, a sympathetic understanding of their actions. But I don’t think it has to be read that way. We can learn much from Schefrin’s novelistic speculations, which are grounded in firm and realistic insights into human nature.

“Marwan” has several strengths, not least among them Schefrin’s handling of the various settings through which his characters move. The map of the novel includes not only Germany and New York, but the Boston area, Las Vegas, Pakistan, Cairo, Dubai, Spain, Oklahoma, and those three key Florida towns: Sarasota, Venice, and Hollywood. Sure-handedly, Schefrin mixes action, densely-textured setting and atmosphere, and characterization. He fashions a convincing world filled with sensory detail that lends credence to the more speculative and abstract dimensions of the novel.

The author does a remarkable job in keeping the reader engaged, especially considering the fact that the outcome is known from the beginning. Along the way, we come to appreciate (or, more likely, be stunned by) the brilliant simplicity of the terrorist plan and the ease with which a series of interim goals were accomplished, leading to the ultimate objective. That is, we see how ineffectual our security was, and we can and should wonder about how much it has improved over the last six years – and at what price.

Aram Schefrin, who lives in Wellington, Florida, practices law there as well as in Rhode Island. For a six-year period beginning in 1968, he was part of the jazz/rock fusion band Ten Wheel Drive. You can find out more about Mr. Schefrin, including his innovations in podcasting fiction, his other novels, and his love for polo ponies, by browsing aramschefrin.blogspot.com. The audio version of “Marwan” is available from podiobooks.com, the print edition from the publisher and from major online booksellers.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.

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