The Way We Live Now

How do you write about the world after it has been upended? Two books take on life after Sept. 11

One of the least remarked upon (and possibly least cared about) consequences of the Sept. 11 attacks is the utter disarray into which they have thrown the American novel. Used to be a literary novel was a taut, emotional family drama set in the Midwest about some sensitive kid coping with a crippling disease. Now books like that read like naive, escapist fantasies. These days it's supermarket thrillers that grapple with pressing geopolitical realities. Tom Clancy's world view has become more plausible and more relevant than Jeffrey Eugenides'.

Yes, some semisuccessful attempts have been made to accommodate the events of...

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