If Victor Lana was searching only for a coping mechanism after 9/11, he could have gone into therapy, spent his days in a bar, or become a hermit. Maybe he did a little of all of those. But Lana is a writer and he sought his way through the turmoil to craft an amazing collection of stories now collected in The Savage Quiet September Sun. This book not only represents a personal catharsis, but also serves as a wonderful honor to all those that perished, and all those that remain.
The stories are all different and touch on diverse subjects; murder, prejudice, young love, deceit, starting over – yet the common theme is some sort of severe loss due to the New York disaster.
“A Love Meant for Another Time” is an account of a young couple, high school sweethearts, Ozan – an Algerian Arab and Sylvia – a Russian Jew, who survived the extreme prejudice of their own families to go on and marry and start their own happy family. Told from the point of view of Greg, Oz’s best friend, the story is a bit heartbreaking even before September 2001. We see the two marry with virtually no other family members willing to attend, and after their two children are born things do not get any better. But Oz and Sylvia’s devotion is powerful- the love enduing well after Sylvia died in the terrorist attack as Oz states so eloquently in an email to Greg:
“Sometimes I think that our love was not meant for this time, but then I realize that this is wrong. Our love was meant for all time: an eternal flickering flame that would have ignited in any century across all continents on this earth…Perhaps love is the hope for this world; I think it’s the salvation in the next one to be sure.”
Love is also the central premise of “Some Kind of Happiness,” which takes place at Jen and John’s wedding reception. Jen had previously been engaged to Ralph, a chef at the World Trade Center. After 9/11, she started going to a survivors' support group and soon met John and his sister Carla. They had lost their younger sister in the attacks and were seeking the same sort of guidance and help as Jen. Eventually, John and Jen dated, and became engaged. Now, even after the vows were taken, Jen struggles with doubt, not sure if she can go through with the marriage.
What is compelling about September Sun is that the stories are all so universal. Average people are doing average things – loving, sinning, hoping, and despairing. After the attacks some lives changed more profoundly than others. Walter Blaine’s life went from a frustrated, out-of-work salesman, to murderer, to hero. In “From the North Tower to Eternity,” Blaine had decided to kill his callous and selfish boss, who had laid him off a few months earlier. Of course, as he made his way to his old office in the WTC that Tuesday morning, he knew his life would change – but never would have believed how drastically.
This is the kind of book you don’t necessarily buy for the enjoyment factor. It’s hard to say even which story I might have favored over another one, but I did like very much “Lockdown on 9/11.” A high school teacher has ironically been leading a class discussion on Ray Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains, the short story about a nuclear holocaust. The discussion is interrupted by the principal’s announcements about the planes striking the towers. What follows was probably the closest to my own life that day, questions, disbelief, confusion, as the students and teacher try painfully to follow the events through the Internet, their only source of information in their classroom.
Even as I agreed to review this book, I wasn’t sure I was up to the task. I kept putting it aside, not wanting to revisit the anguish of the past. Even not having a direct personal loss, I – like so many others – felt a tremendous gaping hole in the collective awareness of what it meant to be a safe American. As hokey as this will seem, a line from Star Wars: A New Hope sums up that feeling, “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.”
Lana’s Savage Quiet September Sun, gives those voices their own stories, and helps us comprehend that day, one voice at a time.
Victor Lana is also the author of A Death in Prague (Xlibris, 2002), and Move (Publish America, 2003).