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The Writing on the Wall: A Novel Hardcover – May 31, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-1582432991 ISBN-10: 1582432996 Edition: First Edition
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The aftermath of the World Trade Center attack provides a traumatic backdrop to Schwartz's latest novel (after In the Family Way), an intellectually evocative and emotionally trenchant exploration of troubled intimacy and the constitutive effects of language. Renata, a Brooklyn-based 30-something librarian with a gift for recondite tongues, is stymied in her promising affair with fellow Brooklynite Jack by her vows of "emotional celibacy," the result of a long history of family trauma, including the tragic death of her twin sister, Claudia, at age 16. When the Twin Towers are struck, Jack's assistant at his downtown social services agency perishes in the collapse, and he and Renata become the caretakers of her baby, Julio. As Renata develops an obsessive attachment to the baby as well to a mute stray teenager she names after her dead niece, Gianna (born just before Claudia's death), Schwartz artfully reveals the origins of Renata's psychic scars: the twins' overenmeshed relationship, the death of their father and institutionalization of their mother, plus Gianna's mysterious drowning. Renata's emotional wariness links to her suspicions of language in general, which are exacerbated by the president's verbal response to the terrorist attack. With Renata's complex balance of intellectual skepticism, emotional fragility and street smarts, Schwartz continues to show herself a rigorous novelist. (June)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Schwartz is a connoisseur of anguish, especially survivor's guilt, yet she is also an adept choreographer of romance. Incisive, unafraid to flirt with melodrama in pursuit of a compelling story, acutely descriptive yet to the point, she now brings to fiction the era-defining tragedy of September 11, 2001. New Yorker Renata, a librarian with a gift for languages, is a hard nut to crack, so thick is the protective shell she acquired after the mysterious death of her twin sister when they were 16. Claudia had just given birth to a daughter, father unidentified. Shortly thereafter, Renata's father also dies, her mother loses her mind, and Renata ends up raising her niece only to have the child disappear. All this pain keeps Renata on guard against intimacy, even with her kind lover, Jack, until 9/11 delivers another motherless girl to her doorstep. Schwartz evokes in electrifying detail the deep shock felt in the wake of the attacks, intuiting the psychological and spiritual dimensions of everyone's obsession with TV coverage, the creation of "impromptu memorials," and the longing to return to normal routines. But this is also a richly nuanced love story, a tale of earned trust and courageous receptivity in a time of fanaticism and war. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; First Edition edition (May 31, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582432996
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582432991
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,960,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth C. Hadas on June 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This marvelous novel combines deep insights into human suffering and redemption with painfully sharp awareness of the importance of speaking the truth and the impossibility of hearing the truth from our political leaders. The story begins with the events of 9/11 but actually gets more powerful as it veers away from current events and into the protagonist's struggle with her private demons.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By HenderHouse on July 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Schwartz's storytelling pulled me through "The Writing on the Wall" as each new revelation unfolded. While the revelations happen quietly, they completely change the landscape of Renata's life. The connection to the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers is an interesting corrolary to the losses that Renata has faced. The 9/11 attacks were huge and visible and the losses were known to all around the world. Renata's loss was similar (sudden disappearance of a loved one), but visible only to those directly affected. A thoughtful and thought-provoking story.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Kramer on August 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Another powerful book by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. Reading this book helped me move the events of 9/11 away from the still unthinkable horror to the effect that day had on the lives of real people as they first made their way through the ash and dust on the street and through the days beyond that.

I loved the strength of Jack's love for Renata. I liked that he fell for her before he learned her many layered aches from the past and stayed with her ready to move through and beyond to their days beyond that.

I liked how the characters were able to rise to the occasion when they needed do, including Renata's mother who loved her enough to reject her offered fantasy and demand that her daughter live her life and overcome her losses in the days beyond that.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Julian Faigan on July 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A thoroughly enjoyable novel, with many challenging themes which twist in and out of the story line. The author obviously has done a lot of research: or observed 9/11 from not too far away. The theme of twins, the theme of incest, the theme of the attacks on the buildings are interwoven with great skill. The main character has a healthy disregard for the pious mouthings of the (un-named) US President and this alone gets full marks from me. But there is much to admire here - I have mentioned only a few aspects of the narrative. I will certainly be seeking out her other works.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
I absolutely loved and devoured Disturbances in the Field, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on this book. In many ways, the theme is about the collapse of walls -- in the World Trade Center, and also the interior walls we put up to keep us from getting close to others. It's about how the tragic exterior events in our life can suddenly bring to focus the interior events that have kept us from moving forward. And, to a great extent, it's also about language -- how our words are often inadequate to communicate what we're really feeling.

For all those reasons, I wanted to give this novel five stars. It's an ambitious book and a book that has a lot to say. But, truth be known, I felt that the characters were not up to the task set forth for them. Renata's personal tragedy reads like something from Jerry Springer -- a dead twin sister, a kidnapped niece, an emotionally challenged mother, a lurid past. I didn't believe the relationship between Renata and Jack; both have been closed off for years and suddenly, the walls start disappearing just like that. I didn't feel Renata's easy forgiveness of Jack's infidelity was believable, considering her issues with trust.

And I felt that some of the conclusions were almost comic: for example, when Jack remarks how easy it is to get a parking space after the towers have fallen, Renata thinks, maybe he's a good soul who can see the silver lining in anything. I'd be more inclined to think that, in this instance, he's thinking of himself! Nor did I believe that Jack would be so unquestioning in his love as Renata -- a woman he hasn't known all that long -- shows so much instability (we, the readers, know why, but Jack does not).

In Disturbances in the Field, Lynn Sharon Schwartz got all the thoughts and feelings pitch perfect. Disappointingly, this one does not. I still look forward to her next novel.
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Format: Paperback
This book was excellent and I had a hard time putting it down. Schwartz took the setting of September 11 as a back-drop for a fascinating story about the narrator's very troubled life. It was very interesting to hear about September 11 from a New Yorker's viewpoint, and visualize how different individuals coped. But what was even more intriguing to me was learning about Renata's (the narrator) life story. The author nicely weaves Renata's history in between chapters from the current day. The narrator is quite lovable with her quirky way of using foreign languages to explain certain concepts and her various folders with different life stories saved up in them. (SPOILER ALERT!) Honestly what keeps me from giving it 5 stars is the lack of a neat and tidy ending. The reader is just left wondering what happened to Renata's niece and whether it truly is the girl she found wandering around after September 11. The author leaves open the possibility that Renata very well could have found her, but then just leaves it at that. At the ending of the book - although equipped with information enough to pursue further investigation into the girl's true identity - Renata just seems to let it drop. It aggravated me so much that I searched out whether the book has a sequel. Perhaps that is something the author plans down the line, but not having such an essential question answered by the time I finished the book is frustrating. I realize that perhaps the author meant to leave us wondering or left it to the reader to make their own conclusion. I realize some readers might even like this type of ending. But for me personally, it just felt like the story wasn't quite finished.
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