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With nearly 50 victims, the commuter hamlet of Middletown, N.J., and its environs suffered the "largest concentrated death toll" on September 11 of anyplace in America. A "town with no middle," Middletown consists of affluent financiers and working-class police officers and firefighters-two groups that were hit particularly hard in the attacks. Bestselling author Sheehy (Passages; Hillary's Choice; etc.), who spent almost two years observing the residents' reactions to the staggering loss, explores how this high-end suburb, for which the closest thing to a social fabric was a ferocious sensitivity to social status, dealt with the tragedy. Sheehy ignores governmental machinations in order to describe the welter of emotions ordinary Americans experienced. The enemy of cliche is detail-and Sheehy's months in the town yield subtle, detailed portraits that confound easy images of "strength" or "denial" (although those are also present). Sheehy implicitly critiques modern American life: any salutary community bonding suggests a prior lack of cohesion, just as the emphasis on financial assistance tends to obscure more fundamental psychological needs. In a community filled with "prefeminist" housewives, "loss of self" became a substantial problem-who am I, if not this or that victim's spouse? Fortunately, in addition to the considerable generosity the town evinced, survivors were able to form an "intentional family" united by grief. One sometimes hears that everyone "knows" what happened on September 11. This admirable book tells precisely the stories we could stand to hear more about. 8 pages of photos not seen by PW. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gail Sheehy is the world-renowned author of seventeen books, most notably the New York Times best-seller Passages, named one of the ten most influential books by the Library of Congress and which has been translated into twenty-eight languages.
Her latest book, DARING: My Passages, is a memoir available now for preorder; September 2014 from HarperCollins.
As a literary journalist, Sheehy was one of the original contributors to New York magazine. A contributing editor to Vanity Fair since 1984, she won the Washington Journalism Review Award for Best Magazine Writer in America for her in-depth character portraits of national and international leaders.
Sheehy is a seven-time recipient of the New York Newswomen's Club Front Page Award for distinguished journalism. Among her other bestsellers are Sex and the Seasoned Woman; Hillary's Choice; New Passages; Understanding Men's Passages; and Passages in Caregiving.
A popular lecturer, she is represented by American Program Bureau (617-614-1607).
I live in Rumson and attend Holy Cross Church, two of the locales that figure prominently in the book. While Ms. Sheehy's insight into our community is sometimes on target, her casual disregard for the names of local institutions, their locations, the spelling of proper names, and other easily-checked facts makes me suspect the trustworthiness of those facts that I cannot verify. Riverview Medical Center becomes Riverview Hospital and moves from Red Bank into Middletown; The First Presbyterian Church at Red Bank becomes Tower Hill Presbyterian Church and moves from Red Bank (it's part of the name, for heaven's sake) into Middletown; and Fort Monmouth moves from Eatontown into Middletown (I detect a pattern here). The two-mile-long manmade deepwater pier at NWS Earle becomes a strip of land extending into the bay (if it was a strip of land, you wouldn't be able to dock battleships there!) Red Bank is described as a town with no center, when in fact it has been lauded nationwide as an example of how an aging downtown can be revived and prosper. These are only a few of the most egregious errors; there are many others. While only a local may notice or care about these things, the sheer number of them gives me the uneasy sense that Ms. Sheehy had a tale to tell from the start, and that facts could be ignored or massaged (or at least callously overlooked) if they got in the way of the story. A few of these errors turned up in the Vanity Fair article of a year and a half ago that presaged this book. I gave her the benefit of the doubt that the gaffes were the result of deadline pressures, and that her fact-checkers would remedy them by the time the book was released. That obviously didn't happen. As a result, it's hard to trust her reporting or conclusions as a whole.
As the second anniversary of 9-11 approached, I decided to purchase Middletown, America. Living in New Jersey, I thought it might be an interesting perspective of the events from those who lived near me. I had no idea how compelling, touching and truly rewarding this book would be and it actually changed my perspective on life. As many of us have "moved on" from the events of 9-11, Gail Sheehy brings into focus the broken lives of many who will never recover fully, and the enormous strength of all of these families to build a life again. After reading this book, I don't think I will ever want to complain about anything ever again!
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I was going to leave a comment instead of a review because I have not yet read this book. However, since several reviewers referred back to the supposed errors, I'm writing this general review. I grew up in Holmdel and Little Silver, two neighoring towns. The church noted is and always has been called Tower Hill 1st Presbyterian Church. They even call themselves by that name. It's a bit of a landmark in that area (though, I don't know if it's an official landmark). Riverview Hospital may now, in these metro times, be called Riverview Medical Center, but it was Riverview Hospital for all the years I lived there and, I believe, was built with that name. As well, Fort Monmouth was its own zip code and not in Eatontown. Historically, Middletown Township covers a very vast area. My guess is that the author, Sheehy, used historical data for her book.
I don't know or have an affiliation with the author or her publishing co. I just saw these reviews and thought them to be erroneously unfair. For many years, I commuted via train to NYC with many of the people who perished on 9/11 and a dear friend's nephew (a Cantor Fitzgerald employee) was one of the first to be found. Those losses pain me to this day and I would not want anyone who might find solace with this book to be dissuaded by the negative reviews.
I found the book well-written, and Ms. Sheehy's telling of the stories of these families' journeys was compelling. She did manage to accurately describe certain aspects of pre- and post- 9/11 Middletown Township. Her prose is vivid & evocative and her social commentary about present-day Middletown as a microcosm of upper middle-class White America is poignant. My problem was that, while probably not diminishing its appeal to the general reader, the book is nevertheless riddled with errors of fact about Middletown's history & and Middletown Township (an area far larger than Middletown) geography. A 4th-generation Middletowner, I left when I was 18 to join the service and have only been back to visit family. The fact that I am an African American, and that my ancestors owned a substantial portion of the land making up Middletown would surely surprise anyone who reads this book, as would the fact that streets are named after our family and a Center for local history & memorabilia bears our name. "The Story of Middletown," a book available in the Middletown Public Library, credits my Great Grandfather Clinton with founding the Redhill "colored" community of Middletown in the late 1800s. The ignoring of the historical African American presence in Middletown starting in the late 1800's left me cold and made me think: isn't this omission also a microcosm of America? In her history of Middletown, Ms. Sheehey either intentionally or inadvertantly committed the same sin of omission our American History books have favored by painting a picture rather than taking a photograph & letting the story she wanted to tell shape the facts. Nevertheless, I feel the book is still worth reading as a way to more deeply process this traumatic, life-changing turning point in our country.Read more ›
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