My review of The Interrupted Sky by David Lawrence appeared in issue 66 of The Journal.
For seasoned watchers of American competitive reality shows—think tattoos, drag queens, fashion design, glass blowing— a phrase pops up with grinding inevitability. Usually uttered by some under-pressure competitor in the process of exiting events, no sooner are the following words out of their mouth, and you know the speaker is doomed: ‘Go Big Or Go Home.’ The aim for greatness is something of a cliché in American art—it’s The Great American Novel for a reason, dudes—and this endless striving for the heights means that many a Daedalus ends up with wax melting on their wings. The failed attempts seem to forget that the genuinely great works – Gatsby, Gravity’s Rainbow, Gunslinger—achieved what they did by aligning a sense of scale with observation on the moment. The poet Edward Dorn probably confirmed his lasting importance (and maybe even greatness) when he observed, casually, ‘I abhor greatness.’
I mention all of this because I’d rather write about anything except the Interrupted Sky by David Lawrence. Taking as its subject the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001, it’s a piece of work staggering in its ineptitude, reckless in its vanity, and the only capacity for wonder it invoked in this reviewer was to wonder what the hell Lawrence thought he was playing at offering a work of such monumental crassness into the world. Anyone wanting to handle a theme like 911 should look at Charles Alexander’s Near of Random Acts, which focusses on the intimate, the human, the small. Going big with a subject like this, you need to remember the people but in the midst of all the turmoil, all Lawrence can look at is himself. Describing this book as a memorial to those complex and devastating events is an insult to the thousands of victims and their families; describing it as poetry degrades millennia of human achievement. Only in its abject awfulness does it reach a sense of scale. David Lawrence has gone home.