“In the Shadow of No Towers” by Art Spiegelman – Review

The sky was indeed falling.

Like most Americans I remember September 11, 2001 with complete clarity. I had come into work early and was sitting at my computer planning my day. My supervisor arrived and while taking off his coat remarked that he’d heard something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York.

At that point no one here even knew what kind of plane it had been and I made a comment akin to “How do you miss the World Trade Center?! I mean, for God’s sake, there’s two of them!”

Of course they weren’t trying to miss.

Myself and the rest of the staff spent the morning holed up in either the owner’s office or the kitchen staring at televisions showing images more and more tragic as the day wore on.

That evening my wife and I cried and held each other and wondered what the future held.

Three years later, Spiegelman’s “slow-motion diary,” In the Shadow of No Towers now sits in my pile of books to be returned to the library. And while it was interesting and beautifully realized, I find myself trying to figure why this book didn’t touch me.

The book, which structurally is very much like a gigantic children’s board book, has ten large pieces, each of which spans the book’s fold mimicking full page newspaper comics of old.

Spiegelman chronicles witnessing the disaster, searching for his daughter afterwards and his attempt to return to some sense of normalcy.

Each spread is beautifully illustrated, the writing is honest and uncompromising, and I even enjoyed the reprintings of early comics that make up the final third of the book. (“The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo – The Fairy Palace” was especially fascinating.)

So why didn’t the book touch me?!

Maybe I’m not clever enough to see some symbolism that Spiegelman intended. Perhaps it’s that I am, as Carrie Newcomer puts it, “hopelessly Midwestern” and am unable to grasp the New York-iness of it.

But, having discussed this with my wife at breakfast, I think the problem is that my own strong memories and emotions connected to September 11th simply don’t allow me to connect fully with Spiegelman’s vision.

The tragedy, while so very public, is also very personal to each of us. It’s very much like the Kennedy assassination – everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when it happened. But when it’s brought up in conversation, you’re never really as interested in hearing other people’s experiences as you are in telling your own.

Lots of people smarter than I like this book very much calling it an “artful rant” and “powerful and quirky,” and I didn’t dislike it per se, but I think in the end that what I brought to the book somehow wouldn’t allow me to fully surrender to it. Is it wrong to say I wish I’d enjoyed these tragic musings more? I don’t know.

I really miss those towers though.