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The Writing on the Wall

John Leonard selected The Writing on the Wall for New York Magazine’s 2005 Best Literary Fiction Award. He calls the novel: "As starkly elegant as the Chinese calligraphy Renata practices—and superior to the 9/11 fictions of both Ian McEwan and Jonathan Safran Foer in its melding of psychological and geopolitical dream worlds."

"The Writing on the Wall is an authentic masterpiece. Reading it was a unique and overwhelming experience."

--Hayden Carruth

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Thirty-four and decidedly independent, Renata has protected herself by keeping her involvement with people, men in particular, to a minimum. Her job as a linguist at the New York Public Library keeps her at a remove from trusting other people with the stories of her past—a twin sister mysteriously dead at sixteen, a betrayal, and family truths too painful to acknowledge. Instead she loses herself in language, forever measuring the integrity of words against lived experience. Jack’s entry into her life, offering the chance of a patient, solid and sexy companion, shakes up her settled routine. Then, as Renata leaves her apartment one bright September morning and walks across the Brooklyn Bridge to work, the sky overhead bursts open and the landscape transforms.

When Renata discovers a teen-aged girl wandering confused and speechless near the rubble, she decides this girl must be her long-lost niece, and takes her home. The girl becomes a bridge between past and present, and the mystery of her identity brings events to a climax.

Her preoccupation with language leads Renata, as well as the author, to examine the false and incendiary language of the government and the press, as they respond to the attacks. So The Writing on the Wall is not only a story of personal confrontation with the past, but of public refusal to confront the present. In both our public and private histories, the novel shows language as crucial in shaping character and defining action.

Lynne Sharon Schwartz illustrates how the collapse of the buildings that day made a different sound for everyone who heard it, depending on their pasts. While public accounts treated everyone’s grief as the same, The Writing on the Wall shows how each new shock revives the shocks of the past, and how the narratives of our lives need to be reshaped accordingly. For each of the characters, the sorrow of that day would echo in a different key.

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"Schwartz’s taut, insightful narrative is one of her best, a telling study of how personal and public grief intersect, and a dramatic exploration of the complex nature of language, spoken and not."

--The Baltimore Sun

"It wouldn’t surprise me if, years from now, historians attempting to portray local public reaction to 9/11 look to The Writing on the Wall."

--Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times