Joyce and Marshall each think the other is killed on September 11—and must swallow their disappointment when the other arrives home. As their bitter divorce is further complicated by anthrax scares, suicide bombs, and foreign wars, they suffer, in ways unexpectedly personal and increasingly ludicrous, the many strange ravages of our time. In this astonishing black comedy, Kalfus suggests how our nation’s public calamities have encroached upon our most private illusions.
It's a familiar New York story: Joyce and Marshall Harriman's divorce battle escalates from a skirmish to a full-fledged territorial conflict, as both sue for custody of their coveted Brooklyn Heights co-op, and consequently they must both continue to inhabit it along with their two small children, "their divorce's civilian casualties." Minor acts of domestic terrorism have become an unavoidable part of their daily lives, so when September 11 happens, neither is immediately very jarred. In fact, each thinks the other dead, and celebrates. Far from putting things into perspective, the tragedy and aftermath become a queasily hilarious counterpoint to the ongoing war to divide Joyce and Marshall's assets. Their pettiness reaches continuously lower depths spying, psychological warfare and even anthrax comes into play. Joyce seduces Marshall's best friend, and Marshall sabotages Joyce's sister's wedding. The Harrimans enact the country's problems on their pathetically personal scale, but the novel miraculously manages to avoid patness or bombast. As in Jay McInerney's recent The Good Life, Kalfus puts 9/11 up against the steel-plated narcissism of New Yorkers with very different, and very funny, results.