9/11 Fiction Hits Bookstores

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"Dear Zoe" tells unique tale of personal tragedy, far from New York or Washington.

With the fourth anniversary of the terrible events of 9/11 just around the corner, the emotional wreckage of that day is finally being explored in the world of fiction. But while most of the stories recently appearing on bookshelves deal with characters whose family and friends perished in the terrorist attacks, perhaps the most innovative perspective comes from Philip Beard in his new novel, "Dear Zoe" (Viking, March 2005). In Beard's story, the main character, a teenage girl named Tess DeNunzio, loses her three year-old sister Zoe to a hit-and-run driver on September 11, 2001 -- and must learn to cope with the devastating loss and her own adolescent emotions while the eyes of the world are elsewhere.

Unlike other novels of the "post-9/11" genre, "Dear Zoe" confronts the grief and turmoil resulting from everyday disaster, all but forgotten in the wake of such a high-profile tragedy. Already acutely aware of her odd place in a home where her mother and stepfather now have children of their own, fifteen year-old Tess begins her letter to Zoe as a means of figuring out her own life -- from her two-hour-a-day hair and make-up ritual to her complicity in Zoe's death. Part love letter, part coming-of-age story, and part confession, Tess's story lets readers eavesdrop on the intimate conversations that force her to articulate her loss, confront her guilt and, ultimately, confirm the healing power of love. According to the recent Booklist starred review, "Beard captures the raw emotion of a 15 year-old girl with impressive dexterity, following Tess through the many stages of grief. Everything about this moving, powerful debut rings true."

Already in the midst of writing his book when the events of September 11th took place, Beard says that on September 12th, he "didn't know how to write anymore." From that day forward, his novel was propelled toward the events of 9/11 because, says the lawyer-turned-novelist, he just couldn't ignore "the ultimate elephant sitting in the middle of the room."

The September 11th tragedy is the backdrop for just under a dozen novels, all released within the past year. While some wonder if it's too soon for 9/11-related fiction, many experts say that broaching the subject in a less literal way may be timely and appropriate for healing grief. According to Spencer Eth, medical director of behavioral health services and associate chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers in New York, readers of such novels can "process the experience for themselves" if they have an opportunity to translate fictional accounts into a mode for assuaging grief. Eth says it is now appropriate for 9/11 to be "embraced creatively and artistically."

Philip Beard was educated at Colgate University, the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Education. From 1990-2000, he was a partner in the law firm of Stonecipher, Cunningham, Beard and Schmitt, where he is still Of Counsel. He lives just outside of Pittsburgh, with his wife Traci and their three daughters. "Dear Zoe" is his first novel.

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Maryglenn Mccombs
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