The single event that we know as 9/11 is over, but the shock waves continue to radiate outward, generated by orange alerts, terrorism lockdowns, and the shrinking of personal liberties we once took for granted. The stories in this book, of real people faced with extraordinary trauma and gradually transcending it, are the best antidote to our fears. Middletown, America is a book of hope. All Americans were hit with some degree of trauma on September 11, 2001, but no place was hit harder than Middletown, New Jersey. Gail Sheehy spent the better part of two years walking the journey from grief toward renewal with fifty members of the community that lost more people in the World Trade Center than any other outside New York City. Her subjects are the women, men, and children who remained after the devastation and who are putting their lives back to-gether. Sheehy tells the story of four widowed moms from New Jersey who started out scarcely knowing the difference between the House and the Senate, yet turned their sorrow and anger into action and became formidable witnesses to the failures of the country's leadership to connect the dots before September 11.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
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March 08, 2005
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Excerpt from Middletown, America by Gail Sheehy
SIGNS AND WONDERS
KRISTEN AND THE RAVEN
When the glossy black bird dropped onto the lawn outside her kitchen window that August, Kristen felt a shudder go through her body. She called out to her husband.
"Oh my God, there's a raven."
"A what " he said. Ron didn't know much about birds.
"A raven," she repeated impatiently.
"You don't understand, that's a bad omen. The raven is the harbinger of death."
Kristen clutched her breast. She had a tumor there, waiting for biopsy. It was in the same place where her mother had found a tumor at the age of thirty-eight. Kristen had lost her mother to cancer a few years earlier. It was a horrible death.
"I'm scared," she told her husband. "I think that's me. I think it's a symbol that I'm going to die."
"You're crazy," her husband said. "It's just a crow."
"I don't want that bird in our yard," she said. Kristen was not usually one to worry. Not this surfer girl from the Jersey shore. This was a tall blonde tomboy who grew up with all guy friends. A natural beauty who still had age on her side, being thirty; she didn't give a thought to taming her flyaway hair or painting makeup on her smooth Swedish skin. She was headstrong to the point that she sometimes got in her own way. For instance, she almost missed marrying Ron. Kristen thought she never wanted to be tied down to one man. No interest in marriage. Zero. Hated children.
Her first date with Ron Breitweiser was on his birthday, August 4, 1996. It was the summer of her bar exam, but she found herself far more attracted to this handsome money manager than to the practice of law. Less than six months later they eloped to a Caribbean island. "And I wasn't even pregnant!" Kristen likes to say. "But why waste time "
The Breitweisers settled in the pleasant land of Middletown, New Jersey, a lush green oasis in the backyard of New York City. Their house was hidden in woods. The two of them became inseparable. She had no hobbies and he had no hobbies because their hobbies were each other. They would watch TV together, read books together; if Kristen got up to take a shower, Ron would follow her into the bathroom so he could keep talking to her. When Kristen brushed her teeth, she would squeeze out the toothpaste onto Ron's toothbrush. They were crazy about their dog, Sam, a golden retriever, whose discombobulated bulk somehow found its way into their bed every night.