Toth has been described as a “notable force in contemporary fiction” and a “literary wizard.” Other reviews of the novel say that it’s a “wonderful cubist and surreal tale of truth through fiction.”
What is it, anyway?
THE 9/11 novel, apparently.
I wasn’t aware that there were others. The idea of there being others is slightly distasteful to me. Yes, there are novels about other dreadful happenings. The Holocaust, for example. The good books about it were only written decades later, when the writers had escaped a devastated Europe for a cleaner America. Or they’ve been starting to appear now, when everyone who could remember what living in Berlin (for example) in 1941 was like.
Is Airplane Novel too soon?
Oddly, no. 9/11 was a strangely 21st century atrocity. Everyone feels they were there; it’s over familiar; it’s imprinted on our minds like movie reels when we close our eyes. It was bombarded at us from TV screens everywhere across the globe for months. Years later there are tales of dust settling, lungs clogging—memories of where we were, who we were with, the people we were at that time and place. The weather of that day is forever cordoned off in the mind.
In this respect, Airplane Novel is almost about something that didn’t happen.
The event has been so twisted and ballooned out of proportion, and blasted in our faces for so long, that a certain sense of desensitisation has crept in.
Correct me if I’m wrong, and I do of course mean no offence. I write from a country far away from America, from a viewpoint removed. When all you know of something is what you see on television, after a while it becomes almost like a story you’re watching on-stage, acted out by real people, yes, while remaining fundamentally unreal.
Reading Airplane Novel as a European, I read it without the visceral emotional investment that I know some of my American friends would have done. I read it, really, as a piece of fiction. A life and death of a building, the South Tower of the World Trade Centre.
As a literary work, the piece is tiresomely self-reflexive. I know that post-modernism is avant-garde in some other decade, but I do hope that we’re moving along a little now.
I got Toth’s point, though:
9/11, as broadcast on every station in the world, was a narrative, and as a narrative of this narrative, it’s therefore apparently imperative that we’re reminded it’s a narrative. The table of contents, for example, being the first thing we meet, is laid out in the arc of a novel’s perfect action: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Denouement.
Airplane Novel is not unlike a Quentin Tarantino film: brilliant beginning and end…and the most boring tosh in the middle that you’ve ever had to chew through. By this I mean pages upon pages of pointless extrapolation that reads as if it’s been put there to fill up time, as though Toth was being paid by the word.
As for the plot itself:
We are provided with an autobiography of sorts of the tower, and then sympathetic characters so that we can connect with the story, and finally, of course, the day itself.
My favourite character was George, the chronic masturbator, and his ex-wife Muriel, with her telescope. The characters are very vivid, moving through the mind’s eye as though they’d spontaneously come into being there. Not very many writers achieve such fluidity without reams of Dickensian description.
Eminently quotable—the man can certainly write a damn good sentence—and with endearing, terribly ‘real’ characters, Airplane Novel, nevertheless, feels wishy-washy. The bombing, when it finally does come, is anti-climactic, but perhaps that was Toth’s point all along. Violence means nothing to us anymore.