American Widow

American WidowAlissa Torres’ story is the story of a quiet life. Torres met her future husband. They dated, fell in love and got married. They struggled with cultural differences (her husband was Columbian) and with the normal problems of everyday life, figuring out along the way how to deal with the curve balls that life throws at us.

Alissa Torres’ story is the story of a broken life. When she was 7 ½ months pregnant, her husband set out for the second day of his new job at the twin towers in NYC. It was September 11, 2001 and he never came home. Suddenly, Torres had to deal with life on her own and yet also life in the spotlight as a “9/11 Widow.”

Torres tells her story in a back and forth manner, jumping from now to then. You learn both how she dealt with losing her husband in such a spectacularly horrific way and also how their relationship evolved. Her husband’s story is told in flashback with the convention of having a dark page instead of a white one, to indicate the flashback.

Because of the back and forth nature of the narrative, there were times when I felt I was missing parts of the story. It jumps too much and doesn’t jump back smoothly to where it left off. So if you leave Torres fighting with a government agency for financial help to see the story of how they met, you may jump back to her being depressed and refusing to leave her apartment. If she is that depressed, how did she get to the agency? Or is she giving in to the depression because the agency came through and so she now has the space to mourn?

Generally, I like a novel that shows and not tells. But here I feel that Torres is often not showing or telling, but just hinting or implying, leaving the reader with not enough clues to figure out what she is saying. Is she explaining how she mourned and got through? Or is she explaining about what a mess the bureaucracy was after 9/11? Or is she showing us how the intrusiveness of the media coverage made it that much harder to heal? I’m not sure.

The art reflects the story. It can be sparse to the point of omission. Sometimes I liked the starkness of the art, and other times it felt thin. Choi has drawn in ink highlighted with blue, a wonderfully appropriate choice of color (a plane against a blue sky, feeling blue, glimpsing a baby through blue glass). There are few details in her drawings, only highlighting the subject of the drawing. Again, while this sparseness sometimes works wonderfully, its continued use to the exclusion of more detail can also dilute it’s impact and leave the reader feeling lost.

Then there are the moments when the sparseness works beautifully. That lack of focus instead gives a feeling of what Torres’ life must have felt like – unfocused, choppy, progressing in rapid bursts interspersed with long endless days of lethargy and depression. It is intriguing to get even this glimpse into what it was like to be so directly affected by 9/11.

American Widow
by Alissa Torres
Art by Sungyoon Choi
ISBN: 9780345500694
Villard, 2008

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