I can't say I was looking forward to picking up Abigail Carter's memoir THE ALCHEMY OF LOSS. I knew, after all, that it was about a woman who lost her husband on 9/11 and found herself having to pick up the pieces of their family as a young widow. But I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the book to anyone who had experienced a similarly staggering personal loss, because of its occasionally painful honesty.
Carter's husband Arron happened to be at a business meeting at Windows on the World on the fateful day, and the phone call he made to her reporting (erroneously) that there had been a bomb in the building was the last time they ever spoke. Still reeling from a recent layoff, Abigail was faced with the unimaginable task of explaining to her two children, 2-year-old Carter and 6-year-old Olivia, what happened to their daddy -- and the greater chore of continuing with her life without him. The book follows Carter's life from 9/11 onward, from her connections with other 9/11 families in their home of Montclair, New Jersey, the ways her husband's death changed her relationships with her parents and the daily struggle of learning to be a single parent. It's impossible not to be moved by her descriptions of her son asking her to sing "Silent Night" for him at bedtime for "Daddy heaven," or the giggles she couldn't stifle during Arron's memorial service.
I can't speak to Carter's experiences as a parent, but I was really intrigued by Abigail's responses to the attacks as a non-New Yorker and someone who had lived for many years outside the U.S. According to her bio, she was born in Philadelphia, but grew up in Canada and lived in London for several years with Arron. It's a useful reminder of the truly international reach of the September 11th terrorist attacks -- I remember from that month a local front-page obit of a woman living 2 towns over from me, who had grown up in the same Girl Scout system as I had and had just moved to New York City. While Abigail blamed herself momentarily for having the American passport which allowed them to move there, I felt curiously honored in a way that she decided to keep her life and her children in this country.
Because it deals with a September 11 loss, I think this book will prove to be a valuable historical document as well as a handbook for the grieving for its detailing of the immediate response to the tragedy. Initially overwhelmed by the help she received, Abigail felt guilty for the help she got when, had he died under different circumstances, many people in her social circle might not have reached out. At the same time, Carter comes not to blame the government's efforts to help her, though she is honest when well-intentioned efforts go wrong (for instance, when a trip to Ground Zero for victims' families is cut short because a group of senators want to see it). When I read her cringeworthy description of stumbling over the media-created six-month anniversary tributes to 9/11, complete with the footage we'll never forget, I found myself getting angry for her to have to be reminded every day of such a huge loss, but rooting for her to persevere through her grief. With THE ALCHEMY OF LOSS, she has done just that.
This post is a stop on a virtual book tour -- to check out the other stops, visit TLC Book Tour's dedicated page. You can also visit Abigail Carter's blog. Lisa of TLC sent me this book and asked me to participate, which I gladly did, because why not? THE ALCHEMY OF LOSS is available in paperback in January 2009.
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