Book review: Novel's love story is tribute to 9/11 chaos

Monday, May 12, 2003

The impact on the American psyche of what has become known as "the events of Sept. 11," 2001, is probably the greatest of any incident since the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. And probably no other single event in American history has directly affected as many people.

Author Kingsbury has taken the chronology of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and woven a highly-believable tale of switched identities.

The story is one of two couples, one from California, the other in New York City.

The New York couple, Jamie and Jake, open the story, attending the funeral of a young probationary fireman who dropped dead of a heart attack. "Too many funerals," Jamie thinks, a prescient understatement on that Sept. 2.

Jake is a fireman whose station is in the shadow of the World Trade Center. A Christian, he is a devoted father to daughter Sierra. He works for his love of the job, as Jamie inherited a sizable fortune from her parents. While a nominal Christian, Jamie's doubts grew after the tragic death of her mother and father in a traffic accident.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, the stress in Laura and Eric's relationship is growing due to Eric's obsession with his work as a deal-maker for high-stakes investors and corporations. Eric's love for his wife and son, Josh, is heart-felt, but not expressed ---- he is too busy making sure the family's needs and wants, and even unwanted luxuries, are met. He barely knows his son.

Laura finds little comfort through her work with her church.

On Sept. 9, Jake and Sierra go to church ---- Laura takes too much time to get ready, and does not go. That night, Sierra prays for her mother when dad puts her to bed.

On Sept. 10, Eric is in New York City, finalizing a deal, while Laura is alone in the family's mansion, trying to keep busy, and haunted by her shattered dreams. Jake returns to work at the fire station.

On Sept. 11, Jake's shift is getting under way as the fire fighters go over the events of the previous evening. Eric is in the south tower of the World Trade Center, where his company's New York office is.

Jake sees a plane flying too low. New York holds its breath. The north tower is struck.

As events unfold, Eric makes his escape, tripping down about five steps of the stairway at the 22nd floor of the now-stricken south tower, and being caught by Jake. The impact apparently dislodges Jake's fire helmet, and Eric sees a photo inside the helmet, of a beautiful little girl with the name "Sierra" in a child's printing.

In the chaos of the stairwell, the two men's eyes meet and they pause in brief astonishment. They are identical in appearance.

Eric is haunted by the experience, as well as grateful for the work of the firemen, but that is left unsaid as he limps on down the stairs. Jake continues on up to the 61st floor where he begins treating victims.

A woman is dying and asks for prayer, and Jake complies. Meanwhile Eric nears the ground floor. The building collapses, and the sudden rush of air blows Eric outside, underneath a parked fire truck from Jake's station.

The man everyone believes is Jake has amnesia, the only thing he can remember being the face and name of Sierra.

Jamie is notified of her husband's survival. Laura, in California, is going crazy, unable to get an answer on Jake's cell phone.

Jamie takes Sierra and Jake's father to the hospital to see the severely injured man, who only recognizes the little girl. Jamie becomes desperate to help her husband regain his memory, but to do that requires helping him rediscover his faith in God, something Jamie had never shared with him.

In California, Laura prays, as her husband Eric did just before the south tower collapsed, for one more chance.

Kingsbury has written an incomparable love story, commemorating the tragedy and heroism of Sept. 11, and portraying the power of God's faithfulness and a good man's love.

One Tuesday Morning; Karen Kingsbury; fiction; paperback, 337 pages with author's note; Zondervan; $12.99.

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