First performed in a hit off-off-Broadway production, and soon to be a film starring Sigourney Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia, The Guys is a timeless drama about the surprising truths people can discover in ordinary lives, and the connections we make with others and ourselves in times of tragedy.
Paralyzed by grief and unable to put his thoughts into words, Nick, a fire captain, seeks out the help of a writer to compose eulogies for the colleagues and friends he lost in the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001. As Joan, an editor by trade, draws Nick out about "the guys," powerful profiles emerge, revealing vivid personalities and the substance and meaning that lie beneath the surface of seemingly unremarkable people. As the individual talents and enthusiasms of the people within the small firehouse community are realized, we come to understand the uniqueness and value of what each person has to contribute. And Nick and Joan, two people who under normal circumstances never would have met, jump the well-defined tracks of their own lives, and so learn about themselves, about life, and about the healing power of human connection, through talking about the guys
Compelled by the tragic events of September 11, Columbia Journalism School professor Nelson volunteered to write eulogies for a fire captain who lost eight men. When director Jim Simpson of off-Broadway's Flea Theatre learned about her efforts, he recognized the potential for an original play. With his encouragement, first-time playwright Nelson feverishly wrote this two-character, one-act work, showing great sensibility and compassion. Premiered at the Flea Theatre on December 4, 2001, the play has been a running success. In these finished eulogies, the fire captain's sketchy recollections of four of his men at work and at play were transformed into full portraitures. Through skillful dialogs and monologs, minimal props and setting, Nelson transcended time and space to create a moving, cathartic work. The book includes three pictures from the Flea Theatre production, a lengthy preface and afterword by the author, and a list of suggested readings. This timely literary work is highly recommended for all academic and public libraries.-Ming-ming Shen Kuo, Ball State Univ. Lib., Muncie, IN Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Random House Trade Paperbacks
August 12, 2002
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Excerpt from The Guys by Anne Nelson
Preface The Guys is based on a true experience. I teach at the graduate school for journalism at Columbia University in New York, and I oversee some thirty international students. On the morning of September 11, 2001, we had sent them out, along with their American classmates, to cover the mayoral primary. It would be days before we knew that all of them had survived. I had learned about the attack on the World Trade Center in a call from my father in Oklahoma. I watched the images on television until the second tower went down. Then, numb, I turned off the television, voted, and went to my office. I remember taking out my calendar and looking at it, wondering which of the events I had planned, if any, now had any meaning. I walked over to the hospital on the next block to donate blood. The emergency personnel turned me away. They were kind, but they wanted to keep the hospital clear for the wounded. They looked over my shoulder as they talked to me, searching the traffic lanes down Amsterdam Avenue for ambulances bearing victims of the attack–those ambulances that would in fact never arrive uptown. There were far fewer wounded than anyone expected. Most of the casualties were dead. Twelve days after the attack, my husband and I took our children to visit my sister and brother-in-law in Brooklyn. Families in New York wanted to huddle, to eat together, and to talk quietly. A friend of my sister’s called, looking for my brother-in-law, Burk Bilger, who is also a writer. The friend had met a fire captain and wanted to find someone who could help him. Burk was working on deadline, so I said I would help. The captain came over that afternoon. Once he got there, he told us his story: He had lost most of the men from his company who had responded to the alarm at the World Trade Center. The first service was only days away, and as the captain, he had to deliver the eulogy. But he couldn’t find a way to write anything. Burk put aside his project and joined us. He and I reassured the captain and started to work. Together, the three of us spent hours producing eulogies. Burk and I worked in shifts, one of us interviewing the fire captain while the other wrote. It was clear to us that the captain, like many New Yorkers that month, was quite literally in a state of shock. Suddenly, a significant number of the people he was closest to simply weren’t there. Yet in only a few days he was supposed to get up and speak before hundreds of mourners, to put something into words that would reflect their loss, as well as their esteem and affection for the fallen man. Through the strange mathematics of chance, neither my brother-in-law nor I had lost anyone close to us in the catastrophe. But like most New Yorkers, we were stunned, grieved, uncomprehending. That afternoon turned into evening, and at last we finished the final eulogy for the services that had been scheduled. The captain thanked us, several times, and then said, “You should come to the firehouse and see what I’m talking about.” I did, a few days later. Like most civilians, I had never ventured beyond the firehouse doors. I saw the environment described in the play–the kitchen, the tool bench, the black boots set out on the floor ready for the firefighters to jump into at a call. I saw a long row of names written in chalk on a blackboard, which listed men as “missing” even though, since it was two weeks past 9/11, those men were surely lost. The captain and I kept in touch. More services were scheduled. He came uptown, and together we wrote more eulogies. He delivered them at the services, and I would call to find out how they went. I could tell that every step was an ordeal for him, because he, utterly unreasonably, felt responsible. Like fire captains across the city, he wanted to take care of the families of the survivors, to compe