Why: To be frank, I don’t exactly know why I decided to read All That is Solid Melts into Air. The title caught my eye, I read the book jacket, and despite not normally reading contemporary fiction, it got my attention. Perhaps it was the brooding setting of a fog drenched island in the North Atlantic. Maybe it was a subconscious pull to read a story about the most catastrophic event to happen in my lifetime. Or, was I simply meant to read it?
The truth was that everything you looked at had to pass through the lens of what you imagined you saw.
Story: Valerie is traveling to St. Pierre – a French island off the coast of Nova Scotia – to contemplate life and love when terrorists attack the United States on September 11th, 2001. Her son, Andre works in the twin towers, as does his partner James. To compound her anxiety, her husband Gerard is a journalist working an assignment in New York City, blocks away from the carnage. Valerie is also left to wonder whether a former lover who was set to take off from Boston that morning was on one of the hijacked planes. What follows is a mind-bending tale of the following hours of grief, fear and uncertainty.
Only time is an arrow that points in one direction. You cannot come back.
Opinion: This book was outside of my reading “comfort zone” and my initial reaction was “Nope. Didn’t like that one.” The more I reflect, however, the more I realize that I did not like the book, but I appreciate it. It is a profoundly personal story, but reads as if it is describing the universal human existence. Carole Giangrande takes readers through a time warp that blends past and present in a way that I can only imagine is what near-death experiences elicit. Valerie may not physically have been in NYC, but she is confronted with death as if she herself were feeling the building collapse beneath her.
Giangrande’s writing strips the plot down to its bare bones and allows Valerie’s inner thoughts to come into sharp focus. This intimate dialogue drives the novel forward and shares the unpredictability of grief, the senselessness of fear and the absolutely overwhelming power of uncertainty. Without the action of a complicated plot, readers are left to experience a depth of emotional involvement that not just any book can elicit. This, to me, is what drives the power and quality of this book.
There’s no sense to be made of anything. Sense isn’t the point, she thinks. Life is too mysterious for sense.
Recommendation: I do not recommend this for readers who have recently experienced loss. There are strong, raw emotions that Giangrande weaves with mastery. Other trigger topics like abortion, homosexuality, genocide, and depression all play a role to some degree, and readers sensitive to these should proceed with caution. This novel is for the literature lovers who enjoy dissecting characters, finding symbolism in the minutia and are excited by abstract themes like time. This is not a simple story. Any reader who is invested enough to read this will be rewarded with a captivating tale that will make them question themselves in new ways.
Time was full of cubbyholes and stuck drawers.
Journaling Prompts: (If you haven’t read any of my other reviews, I enjoy putting together a few questions about the book for those that have already read, or choose to read the book after viewing this post!)
- Does Valerie love Gerard? What about Matt?
- What role does Matt’s father play in this story? How does he connect with Valerie’s father?
- On a different father note, how does Andre’s paternity affect the story?
- How does the inclusion of Laurent Sarazin’s death enhance Valerie’s story?
- Time is included in this book in many different ways. What function does the ticking of the clocks serve for the narrative?
- Flying is also referenced repeatedly. Describe the juxtaposition between the hijacked planes and the plan Jean-Claude takes Valerie up in.
- Why do you think Giangrande picked a birthday to be the centerpoint of the limited physical action in this novel?
- Does this novel have a “happy ending”? Why or why not?
Special thanks to TLC Book Tours for the book in exchange for my honest review!