Monday, September 19, 2011

The Submission

The Submission by Amy Waldman is a 9/11 story set in 2003, two years after the attacks. The plot centers around a jury selected to view the design applications for a 9/11 memorial in New York City and the architect of the winning design.  Originally these people come together for aesthetic and professional reasons. The judges were selected by the Governor and then they chose the winner anonymously. All that professionalism is knocked for a loop when after the choice is made by the jury it is discovered that the winner is Mohammad Khan, a Muslim.

It doesn’t take long for the design choice to become a nationwide controversy and a media touchstone. The public reaction to the choice is swift and varied but it’s the negative views that shout the loudest. Could “The Garden” as Khan’s designed is called is be a victory garden for Islam?

First time novelist Waldman brings a real world of reaction and rhetoric to an emotional crisis. She has culled central casting for her characters including: liberal professors, the principled artist, morally corrupt financiers, illegal immigrants, a ring-wing radio host,  911 widows, first responders,  a shady journalist, ambitious politicians, grieving families, etc but then given them all the benefit of her sharp observation and unwillingness to pull punches.  Every character has a point of view or maybe an agenda and if they don’t they are subjected to the agendas of others. Waldman brings it all very entertainingly to light within the context of the event she created.  

The Submission is not a collection of character studies or ~~shudder~~ short stories. Waldman has carefully and successfully plotted out an elaborate and satisfyingly complex ‘What If ‘kind of novel.  She covers all the emotions and questions that all of us have experienced in the last ten years.  No easy answers are offered but in Waldman’s expert and darkly humorous novel she challenges your loyalties and beliefs. The Submission is outstanding.

There are so many of our recently shared experiences and pop culture references in The Submission that sometimes the book takes on a slightly documentary feel. Every once in a while as I was reading The Submission I had to wonder how this quality will affect how the book ages. Will what is so historically and emotionally timely now wear well ten years from now?  I can’t say but there is an epilogue in The Submission that takes place in 2023 where Waldman offers us her vision of the future.

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