Amy Waldman's debut novel The Submission has been considered one of, if not the prime runner for becoming America's classic 9/11 novel. Though the story takes place entirely in the aftermath of the disaster that struck New York City on that day, The Submission speaks to the importance of how the nation deals with and grows from the tragedy.
The novel starts two years post-9/11 as a carefully selected committee settles their decision for a 9/11 memorial. Composed of artists, prominent members of the New York elite, and even a widower from the event, this composite group is designated the task of selecting, from thousands of anonymously reviewed plans, the memorial that will forever stand on the site of ground zero. Despite contentions that wreck committee members in deciding between the final two proposals, even further chaos is unleashed when the identity of the winning designer is revealed.
This novel speaks to how vast and inexplicable the impact of 9/11 is on the American psyche. While only one member of the committee was directly impacted by personal loss on that day, the opinions of other committee members who are equally American prove to be, at times, equally valid. The legacy of 9/11 is not one limited to the immediate family members of the deceased or New York City residents only, which Waldman speaks to with eloquence and subtlety.
Just what that legacy is, however, is another issue of central concern to Waldman's novel. For some, the attacks of 9/11 represent an assault on an American way of life that need be upheld more than ever before. For others, the attacks provide evidence of the United States' vulnerability and the necessity of suspicion, security, and vigilance in all matters of life. Still others understand the anniversary of 9/11 as a time to celebrate the diversity that makes this nation so strong, unique, and vital. These varying legacies are all manifest in the behavior of individual characters within the novel, reflections of real American citizens across the nation. The terrorist attacks are a tender issue that Waldman handles with equal doses of realism, honesty, and solemness. Though sentimentality plays a role, it does so in only the subtlest of minor hints.
The Submission also finds great strength in the composition of its very characters. Waldman paints unapologetically realistic portraits of individuals affected by the tragedy. There were characters I wanted to sympathize with on account of their circumstances, but Waldman made them unforgivable in nature. Others were less than noble in their actions but still received my encouragement. The complexity of these personalities is unforgivingly honest and helps to make this novel ring even more true.
While I recognize that this review has done little to supply potential readers with the plot line of this novel, I hope that, in so doing, I've demonstrated how thought-provoking of a read The Submission is. I was relatively young when 9/11 occurred and didn't understand the full consequences and implications of a terrorist attack in a city a few hundred miles from my home. The devastation and tragedy of the day were definitely impressed upon me, but as a girl barely in her teens, I was unable to fully process what had occurred or what it meant to myself and everyone else who called themselves an American.
Though my feelings regarding the legacy of 9/11 and the national attitude we need take from the attacks are still being formulated, Waldman helped raise new and interesting questions that will ultimately help to shape my personal attitude. The Submission throws the concepts of tolerance, security, patriotism, love, and democracy into debate in challenging ways that I bet a majority of Americans have failed to even consider. With great care, understanding, and insight, Waldman's The Submission opens up a vast realm of thought surrounding 9/11 that concerned Americans would be remiss in overlooking.
at 8:27 AM