All That Is Solid Melts Into Air


a novel by Carole Giangrande

Print: 978-1-77133-361-0
Accessible ePUB: 978-1-77133-362-7
PDF: 978-1-77133-364-1

236 Pages
April 20, 2017  

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Winner, 2018 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction
Shortlisted, 2017 Mary Sarton Award (Contemporary Fiction)

In the morning fog of the North Atlantic, Valerie hears the frenetic ticking of clocks. She’s come from Toronto to hike on the French island of St. Pierre and to ponder her marriage to Gerard Lefèvre, a Montrealer and a broadcast journalist whose passion for justice was ignited in his youth by the death of his lover in an airline bombing. He’s a restless traveller (who she suspects is unfaithful) and she’s the opposite: quiet, with an inner life she nurtures as a horticulturalist. Valerie’s thinking about Gerard on assignment in her native New York City, where their son Andre works. In New York City, an airplane has plunged into a skyscraper, and in the short time before anyone understands the significance of this event, Valerie’s mind begins to spiral in and out of the present moment, circling around her intense memories of her father’s death, her youthful relationship with troubled Matthew, and her pregnancy with his child, the crisis that led to her marriage to Gerard, and her fears for the safety of her son Andre and his partner James. Unable to reach her loved ones, Valerie finds memory intruding on a surreal and dreamlike present until at last she connects with Gerard and the final horror of that day.

“With shattering grace Giangrande divines catastrophic grief, the redemptive power of ephemeral joys, and the interconnectedness of all things as past and present conflate in terrorism’s chaos. Memory becomes balm as life, all life, is porous. Exquisite, devastating, this book is a bomb.”
— Carol Bruneau, author of Glass Voices and These Good Hands

“In All That is Solid Melts Into Air, the language of trauma is made lyrical and evocative in Carole Giangrande’s hands so that like her characters, we become witnesses again in our post-9/11 imaginations and hearts. And it is her female protagonist, Valerie, we follow with an empathic blend of dread and hope in the hours before and after the tragedy. Gardener and nurturer of the earth, wife and mother in frantic search of her son, it is Valerie whose fragmented memories, dreams and premonitions we decipher while Giangrande skillfully weaves us back and forth in time and place. As we uncover Valerie’s intertwining life stories of love and loss and shuttle from the richly depicted landscape of Saint-Pierre to a devastated Lower Manhattan, we recognize “how precious human conjunctions are” for all those of us left behind. A riveting and reflective read of the cumulative moments that mark a life.”
— Carol Lipszyc, author of The Saviour Shoes and Other Stories

“An elegy for lost innocence, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air is at once extremely sad and exquisitely hopeful. Its hopefulness resides mainly in the stubborn resonance of the quotidian, and in the kind hearts and good wills of those who refuse to accept evil, no matter how often it crashes into their lives. Carole Giangrande has achieved a great deal in this short, beautiful book; confronting the incomprehensible without despair and describing profound grief without sentimentality.”
—Susan Glickman, author of The Tale-Teller and Safe as Houses 

“All That Is Solid Melts Into Air is above all a compassionate book. Carole Giangrande takes that horrifying day—September 11, 2001—and filters it though the consciousness of a woman, Valerie, whose loved ones are in Manhattan as the crisis unfolds. She doesn’t know whether they are dead or alive, and Giangrande is masterful in her expression of Valerie’s surreal state of mind. The book captures with gut-wrenching acuity the anxiety, fear and distress of not only that particular day but of our current social climate as well. No one is safe anymore—was anyone, ever?—and our perceptions rule us: “The truth was that everything you looked at had to pass through the lens of what you imagined you saw. It was up to you to decide what was real.”  Timely words from a timely book.”

—Eva Tihanyi, author of Flying Underwater: Poems New and Selected and The Largeness of Rescue

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

Born and raised in the New York City area, Carole Giangrande is a Toronto-based novelist and author of nine books, including the award-winning novella A Gardener on the Moon, the novels An Ordinary Star and A Forest Burning, the short story collection Missing Persons, the novellas Here Comes The Dreamer, and Midsummer and her new novel, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air. She’s worked as a broadcast journalist for CBC Radio and her fiction, poetry, articles and reviews have appeared in Canada’s major journals and newspapers (Her essay “Goshawk” was the 2016 Lyric Essay Award Winner in the Eastern Iowa Review). She’s read her fiction at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, at the Banff Centre for the Arts, the University of Toronto, on radio and at numerous public venues. She’s recently completed another novel. Visit her website at www.carolegiangrande.com.


A café across the street from the fromagerie— that’s what Valerie found out at the pottery shop, but she didn’t recall a café at that location. Rue Albert Briand was two blocks away, and opposite the Fromagerie Leduc was a dress shop, a travel agency, and a bright yellow clapboard house that looked like a real estate office. Its tiny green lawn and garden distinguished it from the other businesses, yet even so, Valerie didn’t recall seeing this building earlier. She noticed a green planter full of geraniums under a lace-curtained window. The curtains were drawn. Next to the front door was a painted tile, the kind that shows either a house number or the name of a business. The white tile was edged in flowers, and in the centre was a bright blue exclamation point.

Too cute, she thought.

Valerie crossed the street, then walked a few metres in the opposite direction, thinking she might have missed the café. When she turned back again, she noticed a man and a woman coming out of the yellow house. They were each carrying moulded-plastic tables that they set up on the sidewalk. They went back for the stacking chairs, working until they’d set up four tables. On their last trip inside, the woman returned with two cups of coffee and the man came back with a laptop. Then he sat down.

“Welcome,” the woman said to Valerie. “We are Jeanne and Michel Brunet.”

“I didn’t know there was a café on this street.”

“There isn’t.” She pointed to the tile by the door. “We open on impulse.”

Like a lemonade stand, thought Valerie. Years ago, she and Karen used to sell lemonade and old comic books from a wooden crate that their mother set up in front of the house on Willow Road. Only this was different. You couldn’t just run a café when you felt like it. You needed a license and a visit from the Health Inspector. You were supposed to post a menu. The world hadn’t changed that much since this morning that these rules would be suspended.

Valerie remembered why she’d come.

“Have a seat,” said Jeanne.

“Would it be possible for me to check my email?”

Michel got up and pointed to his place. “Mon Plaisir. I must attend to my other clients.”

There was no one in sight.

The man went inside. Jeanne followed him. She returned with four small vases full of chrysanthemums, one for each table.

“Would you like something to eat?” she asked.

Valerie ordered eau gazeuse.

“You are not hungry?”

“My son is missing in New York.”

“Je suis desolée.”

Jeanne brought her some sparkling water, then went inside. About to log on, Valerie glanced at the laptop, at the white, sunlit table crossed by a long shadow. Standing before her was the pilot. He looked at her with troubled eyes.

“You are busy,” he said.

“I must find my son.” Her hands rattled the keyboard. “Please sit with me.”

She was afraid to receive bad news alone.

A slow connection. She had a moment to find out who he was.

His name was Jean-Claude and he worked for Air France. He’d flown from Paris to Montreal, then booked a local flight for an excursion to Saint-Pierre before returning home. Now he was stranded, unable to fly. When Valerie told him that she was from New York, he pulled out an address book and pointed to a name.

“My sister-in-law,” he said. “I have tried calling, but I cannot reach her.”

“She’s in Brooklyn. She’s safe.”

“My brother is not safe.” His brother worked in one of the towers, he explained.

“He might have escaped.”

Mais oui. We are so close, my brother and I. We often walk in Central Park, along the grande allée. He might have gone there.”

“He may be trying to email you.” She glanced at the screen.

“I am interrupting.”

“No. A remote connection. Much too slow.”

“Only last week, I saw my brother in France,” he said.

Anxious now, she asked him about his family. His children were grown, he said. She watched his eyes as they moved across her hand, as they paused at the ring on her finger.

“Where is your husband?” he asked.

“He’s in New York, also.”

“He is all right?”

“He’s gone looking for our son,” she said.

“Your son is missing?”

“I’m sure they’ll find him.” Her voice seemed unnatural to her, too bright. “I’m sure there’ll be email.”

“Forgive me. I mustn’t stop you—” Jean-Claude looked away, the pain in his face undisguised. “It is insanity,” he whispered.

“We’ll be all right,” she answered, unsure what she meant, or what anything meant—two fearful strangers, a sidewalk café on a deserted street, the silence wracked by a tolling bell.

“If I were home, I’d be working in the garden. Keeping busy.”

“Yes, there are things we must do at times like this,” said Jean-Claude.

“What must you do?” she asked.

“I must fly,” His voice became intense, as if he meant right now. “It will make all the difference in the world.”

“Will you find—?”

“I want to answer these people back.”

She imagined fighter-planes, and the thought distressed her.

“No, I do not want revenge,” he said.

Her hands remembered the soft leaves of Marguerite’s geraniums, and again she heard her mother’s voice, her murmured benediction. Blessed plant. Yet the towers burned. She imagined him cleansing the sky of its suffering. Yet after her visit to the Peace Factory, she’d had enough strangeness for the day. She glanced at the screen.

“I’m online at last,” she said.

“When you are done, would you share lunch with me?”She told him that she couldn’t imagine relaxing over lunch when her son was missing.

“Of course,” he said. “I understand.”

“But stay while I check my email.” Valerie looked around. The street was empty. The air felt as soft as the inside of a flower. The bells were tolling in the silence.


As soon as she went online, it felt as if Jean-Claude had dissolved into air.

There were two emails from her son.

The first had an attachment. Some photos from dad, read the subject line. It was sent at eight-thirty a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, just before the first attack. Dad took these yesterday. The photos included a beautiful view of the North Tower with the Hudson River in the background, the scene Gerard had described on the phone the previous night.

The second e-mail was sent at eight fifty-five a.m. local time, ten minutes after the first plane struck.

I’m safe, Andre wrote. James is waiting to be rescued. We’ve spoken. He’s bearing up.
I’m watching this unfold from the adjacent tower. I love you. Andre.

“The adjacent tower” was the one that had just collapsed.

He was out of there like a shot, I’ll bet, thought Valerie.


Keys tapping under Valerie’s fingers.

Cher Gerard, Andre emailed me just before you spoke to him this morning, before the second plane hit his bldg. Plse keep in touch. If you can’t get through on the phone, email me, I can connect.

She logged off.

Before Jean-Claude could ask what was wrong, she got up and started running east along Rue Albert Briand. Up ahead, she saw a slight figure, her motions brisk. Click-clack, staccato of heels on the pavement, a woman carrying a huge bouquet.

Only Lisette was walking in the wrong direction. Not toward home.

10 reviews for All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

  1. inannaadmin

    A Little Water
    All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Carole Giangrande
    reviewed by Dorothy F. Lane
    Canadian Literature – October 5, 2018

    …The multifarious image of water is threaded through the three novels reviewed here. However, water in these books does not “clear” the characters of their internal and external nightmares, but erodes, distorts, isolates, and reflects the horror. All three books focus on examples of human actions and relationships that are never resolved, and of systems that spread the stain.

    Carol Giangrande’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, immediately, for instance, confronts the futility of optimism despite its setting on a seemingly-idyllic island of retreat for the primary character, Valerie. The title is a quotation from Marx’s Communist Manifesto that refers to the contradictory and deceptive nature of economic and political systems: “All that is solid melts into air . . . and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life, and his relations with his kind.” Gavin contemplating suicide in the Prologue of Spruit’s novel is an echo of this compulsion to face “real conditions.” Giangrande’s book also shares its title with the 1970s critique of modernity and progress by Marshall Berman; Giangrande’s narrative is grounded in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, but similarly displays the human cost of political dogmatism.

    Witnessing the destruction unfolding “live” through mass media from the apparent isolation of the island of St. Pierre off the coast of Canada—“A speck of France in the eye of the sea”—Valerie’s planned retreat becomes nightmarish. Human interventions such as clocks become the recurrent sound image, a mechanical object that somehow continues to work despite the failure of other technologies like email and cellphones. Valerie attempts to reach her husband, Gerard, on assignment in New York, and her son and his partner who also live and work there. The ticking of clocks becomes an underlying noise, like water dripping, but rather than sweeping away the sins of the past, it reminds her of recurrence of partisan events and their tragic consequences.

    The choice of the historical moment seems almost gratuitous since the book interweaves past and present through Valerie’s perspective, and the intersections verge on implausibility. We learn that Gerard’s former partner was killed in the Swiss Air bombing of 1970, and that he left Montreal during the height of the October Crisis. Valerie’s own childhood friend is possibly on a flight that day. It is Giangrande’s poetic voice that carries the narrative reflecting Valerie’s internal dialogue. Near the beginning, for instance, Valerie notes that “when the world starts to break, you break, too” and “there’s no way out”—a statement that mirrors her isolation on the island, and sense of vulnerability. At times, her voice approximates hallucination, as she envisions connections not rooted in geography, but with the fluidity of water: “And while you’re here in my head, she said to James [her son’s partner], talk to me about Andre. You’ve been such a comfort for him. Keep him alive for me.”

    The recurring themes of despair and disconnection culminate as we reach the climax of this novel, and yet there is humour and hope in that gathering. All three books, then, probe the unsettling element of water, a force that intertwines with these human characters and often underscores their entrapment within or damage by inhumane systems. With a variety of approaches, tones, and narrative strategies, all three expose the chaotic yet rewarding work of relationships.

  2. inannaadmin

    All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Carole Giangrande
    reviewed by Publishers Weekly – July 9, 2017

    Giangrande (Midsummer) sensitively delves into the effects of the 9/11 attacks on one family. Valerie ventures from Toronto to the French island of St.-Pierre to contemplate her future, worrying that her 30-year marriage to Gerard, a freelance journalist, might be over. While on the island, she hears news of the World Trade Center attack. Gerard is on assignment in New York, and Valerie’s son, Andre, and Andre’s partner, James, both work in the WTC’s ill-fated towers. Overcome by the situation, Valerie is thrust backward through the events of her life: her origins in New York, her first time meeting Gerard in Montréal at a time when each of them faced a tragedy—he having lost his first love in the Swissair bombing of 1970, she having been abandoned while pregnant with her first child. Giangrande never uses the imagery of 9/11 for gratuitous shock, taking a somber tone as Valerie vacillates among confusion, horror, and self-deception while she waits—surrounded to surreal effect by the mundanity of everyday life—to hear of the fates of those closest to her. This is a softly unsettling book, effective in showcasing the confusion that follows such a personal yet public crisis, but it occasionally veers too far into esoteric, poetic detachment. (May)

  3. inannaadmin

    All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Carole Giangrande
    reviewed by Elizabeth
    5 Minutes for Books – May 31, 2017

    All That Is Solid Melts Into Air pins the horrific events of 9/11 firmly into a timeline of terror, showing how people were affected by other events–the downing of a Swiss plane carrying Gerard’s first love 30 years earlier by a bomb placed in the luggage hold, for example, or the bombing by Quebecois separatists of the Stock Exchange which spared his brother. Matt’s witness and confession of Vietnam, their fathers’ inability to recover from their own psychic war-wounds gained during World War II, and on it goes, bearing witness to man’s inhumanity to man and the fact that although there is good on earth–in flowers, in good food and sunlight, in music, in basic human goodness and kindness–yet there is always evil too.

    Author Carole Giangrande is a skilled craftsman, and her writing is sharp and dreamlike at the same time. She moves the reader deftly through horror and nightmare into a kind of stillness, and a honoring of life. This is the second of her books I’ve read (Here Comes the Dreamer; linked to my review) and I love her writing. She manages to take the specific events of one life and one family and make them speak universally to our time. Highly recommended.

  4. inannaadmin

    All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Carole Giangrande
    reviewed by A Bookish Way of Life – May 31, 2017

    It’s 9/11 and Valerie is hiking on a French island, while her son and his partner are working in the Twin Towers. Her husband is also in NYC on a job. News begins to spread about the terror occurring in NYC. Valerie is unable to find out any information about her family. She’s filled with anxiety, panic, worry, and fear. Her mind bends back and forth from the past to the present as she awaits any form of news. And that is pretty much all I will write about the story. Why? Because it is a fantastic piece of storytelling that I don’t want to ruin for anyone. It is seriously that good.

    Giangrande has written a thought-provoking story that will have your heart racing, bursting, and breaking. The story is thoughtful, slow-going, and emotional. The prose is beautiful. The characters are interesting, flawed, and realistic. And the ways in which this book explores life and death through the pain of waiting and not knowing is superb. I just loved this book so hard. It was terrific!

    I would most definitely recommend this novel to fans of Giangrande and anyone looking for their next great read – you won’t want to miss out on this MUST-READ book!!

  5. inannaadmin

    All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Carole Giangrande
    reviewed by Books and Bindings – May 27, 2017

    I struggled with several issues while reading this oddly enticing book, yet I couldn’t give up on it as bits of brilliance kept me on the hook, I was invested and just had to know how it would end. The storyline traverses and flits across several timelines without preamble as the highly anxious main character of Valerie frets and imagines entire scenarios of what may be happening to her New York-based loved ones during the horrible hours and days following 9/11. Valerie was an anxious creature and as the story started, she was already fretting and stewing about the state of her marriage before the 9/11 events triggered an escalation of her worries and regrets.

    Valerie was just a mess, for someone obsessed with time she often lost all sense of this dimension. Her thoughts would skitter and sometimes lead to a memory (actual or imagined), which would then sometimes bleed into another thought, regret, or memory, or even fragment into something completely unrelated. As such, the storyline was often jagged, fragmented, or disjointed. At times, I was not sure if she was daydreaming or hallucinating as her inner musings and ruminations occasionally took on an ethereal quality of seeing visions and talking to ghosts. As she unraveled into her spiraling anxiety, the story jumped wildly and incoherently, yet it was often oddly lyrical and evoked and conjured sharp visuals. Much like coming upon an accident site, I was unable to look away.

    Valerie lived in Canada and due to my personal failings to learn alternative languages, I struggled with the frequent use of French words and phrases, as my dismal knowledge of French is pitifully limited to thank you, hello, and good-bye. While I love to listen to people speaking French, as it sounds positively divine to my ear – I am not so enamored with this tongue while reading. Thankfully my beloved Kindle has a translator, which got a thorough workout. I cherish and adore my Kindle!

    Despite my trite and petty frustrations, I have to admire Ms. Giangrande’s deft word skills and writing mastery. She sucked me in and held me captive, and it was well worth the effort.

  6. inannaadmin

    Fantastic Writing! All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Carole Giangrande
    reviewed by Susan Roberts
    Girl Who Reads – May 25, 2017

    This is a beautiful book that I read slowly so that I could savor the fantastic writing. It’s about 9/11, a subject that many people still can’t read about, but it’s about so much more than that. It’s about family and love and memory of earlier life and trying to make sense of the world around us even during a tragedy such as 9/11. It’s about the way that the past and the present are connected and the fact that you often need to look at your past to understand what is presently happening. Most importantly it’s a deep look into someone’s mind as they deal with senseless tragedy on a personal and a worldview perspective. I really cannot recommend this book enough — it’s one that I plan to keep and re-read.

  7. inannaadmin

    All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Carole Giangrande
    reviewed by Readaholic Zone – May 14, 2017

    The book’s plot slowly unfolds predominantly throughout the tragic day of 9/11. The narrative is told through the eyes of the main protagonist Valerie, who unfolds both the past and present to the reader. Therefore, the book takes you through many emotions, yet the main focus is not placed on death, but in my interpretation time, which the theories that the author contrived blew me away. For instance with exotic clocks, breaks in time, time collapsing upon itself, along with a multitude of other interesting ideas. Can we manipulate time? Granted Valerie has a mammoth connection to the tragedy that is occurring in New York City but for me discuss that aspect of the book in this review would give too much of the story away. Furthermore, the wording is both elegant and poetic, including a slew of French zesting up the language. Hence, the author, accomplished painting vivid images within my mind’s eye that will never be forgotten. Overall this book is unique being unlike anything I have read before. Go get a copy! You will not be disappointed.

  8. inannaadmin

    All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Carole Giangrande
    reviewed by The Miramichi Reader – March 8, 2017

    Carole Giangrande’s All That is Solid Melts Into Air (Inanna Publications, 2017) centres around events in the life of Valerie Lefèvre, a New York-born woman married for over thirty years to Gerard, a French-Canadian man who is a political journalist, travelling the globe to cover wars, terrorism and other atrocities. A tragic incident from his past drives him to cover such events and places. Finding herself with an empty nest, Valerie becomes a landscaper in Toronto, tending gardens for those too busy to do so themselves. She is not particularly fond of Gerard’s occupation (or rather, his preoccupation), for she finds the grief and sorrow he brings home has invaded her life too:

    “She didn’t have to travel to find sorrow. It was the soil from which the world was made. She didn’t know how to tell Gerard that his grief had seeped into her bones. Nor did she know what human thing she could do about any of it.”

    The book opens with Valerie on the tiny French island of St. Pierre, which is just off the south coast of Newfoundland where she is visiting Marguerite, a cousin of Gerard’s and, not incidentally, where she and Gerard spent their honeymoon over thirty years ago. It is the early morning of September 11th, 2001. Walking through the town, Valerie hears clocks ticking:

    “Valerie noticed a sign a short block from the intersection, right next door to the photo shop. Horlogerie. The clock shop was too far away for such a racket, but as she approached it, the sound grew no louder. The shop turned out to be nothing special, with its display window full of conservative gold wristwatches, black leather-banded ones, a few funky pastel styles with fat faces and big hands. She could glimpse larger, noisier clocks inside. Next to the door was a plaque that read L. Sarazin, Propriétaire. The door was open, but there was no one behind the counter. The shop was empty.”

    We later we discover the shops’ beloved owner has passed away during the night. Has time ceased on the island of St.Pierre now that its sole purveyor is no more? Seeing and hearing clocks takes Valerie back in time to her childhood where a neighbour boy named Matt Reilly had a father who made clocks. Not ordinary clocks, but fantastical clocks built into furniture, books and even the floor. They were all named after Charles Reilly’s’ deceased war buddies including Jeremiah, Valerie’s father, who was found drowned one day after a fishing accident (but smacks of a PTSD induced suicide).

    While pondering these thoughts from her past, there are her present concerns: her strained marriage, her son Andre (who lives in New York with his partner James), as well as her past romantic relationship with Matt (who became a priest shortly after returning from Vietnam). Now, the terrorist attacks on the twin towers are carried out. Valerie now has the added worries for the safety of Gerard (who is on assignment in NYC), and Andre, whose many clients are in the towers, and even of James, a chef in the tower’s restaurant. Matt too is involved for he is booked on a flight out of Boston. Valerie, on a remote island with spotty Internet access and no immediate way of communicating with any of her loved ones in New York, can only watch it unfold on TV (where she glimpses fleeting images of an ash—covered Gerard scrambling to interview survivors on the street) and attempt to distract herself by cooking, cleaning and baking for Marguerite but with little success. Memories keep wafting in; even the simplest tasks like baking or stacking the dishwasher recall memories from the past. Somnambulating the charming streets and ghostlike shops (replete with phantom-like shopkeepers) of St. Pierre, she chance encounters the pilot Jean-Claude who is grounded from flying by events and wishes only to fly: (“I just have to be in the sky again” he tells her). Valerie has apparently found a soulmate of suffering in a place with few if any strangers. A flight in a borrowed seaplane “shimmering white in the darkness” helps them to reconcile their emotions, and Valerie emerges with a changed perspective on the day’s events and all she has experienced.

    All That is Solid Melts into Air is a magical work of literature, brimming with wondrous imagery and subtle threads of the future/present/past entwined in a radiant narrative that will have you feeling Valerie’s pain, sensing her confusion and her desire to keep busy while she awaits any news regarding the fate of her loved ones. Her solid world (and the world around her) has melted into air.

  9. inannaadmin

    All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Carole Giangrande
    reviewed by Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt
    Room Magazine – fall 2017

    Carole Giangrande’s third novel, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, is set on the remote French island of St. Pierre, off the coast of Newfoundland. Forgotten by time, the island itself becomes a metaphor in a novel that explores how trauma and grief influence our perceptions of time and space. All That Is Solid suggests that when lives are extinguished, places are transformed both in our sight and in our mind’s eye, while the meaning of the day-to-day shifts along with our experience of time itself.

    The story revolves around Valerie Lefèvre, a mother who became a gardener after her two children left the house. A New Yorker by birth, Valerie met and married Gerard, a Québecois journalist, some thirty years earlier, and has come to St. Pierre to contemplate whether she will stay married to him. There, she receives word of the World Trade Center attacks—Gerard and her son, Andre, along with Andre’s partner—are all in Manhattan. The attacks drag her into memories of past trauma. including her father’s death in World War II and a former lover abandoning her as a young, pregnant woman.

    Moving between past and present, the novel’s structure reflects the fragmented nature of memory. Giangrande maintains suspense without veering into sensationalism—an accomplishment given that the plot hinges not only on the 9/11 attacks, but also on the Vietnam War, the FLQ and Swissair bombings, and other human-orchestrated calamities. Lyrical details reinforce the protagonist’s love of gardening, baking, and music, while rich descriptions evoke both New York and St. Pierre, including the pension where Valerie stays: “The back door was open, a bright square of daylight punched into the shadowed room. It framed a patch of garden, staked vines bending under the pendulous weight of ripe squash, enormous leaves, brilliant yellow flowers.”

    As Valerie waits to hear from her loved ones, she grounds herself in the mundaneness of the everyday, but occasionally loses her grasp on reality. At times. the story deviates too far into the occult: imagined people, places, and the scenes seem excessive for a novel that already feels crowded with characters, settings, and events. All That Is Solid Melts Into Air is a deflty crafted meditation on what happens in the aftermath of tragedies both public and private, calling into question the idea that time heals all wounds.

  10. inannaadmin

    All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Carole Giangrande
    reviewed by Mark Sampson
    Quill and Quire – July/August 2017

    Has enough time passed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, for authors to render those tragic events into fiction? For readers left disappointed by hasty attempts from Dom DeLillo, Martin Amis, and Jonathan Safran Foer, this new work from Carole Giangrande may offer an enriching alternative. All That Is Solid Melts Into Air – a title taken from a line in The Communist Manifesto – is at once a slow rumination of those horrific events and an intense, frighteningly accurate recreation of them.

    Protagonist Valerie Lefevre, on a hiking trip to the French island of St. Pierre (off the coast of Newfoundland), is visiting with her husband Gerard’s cousin, Marguerite, on that fateful day. Valerie has a somewhat implausible yet incontrovertible four-pronged connection to the attacks unfolding 1,000 miles to the south of her in Manhattan. Gerrard, whom she fears is cheating on here, is in New York on a freelance journalism assignment; their son, Andre, is working in one of the World Trade Center towers; Andre’s parner James, is working in the other; and Valerie’s former lover, Matthew – to whom she is still close – is scheduled to fly out of Boston that day, and may be aboard one of the hijacked planes.

    If you can suspend your disbelief that such a remarkable confluence of people could converge in this way, what Giangrande offers is a rich portrait of one woman’s emotionally wrought inner world, and an illustration of the way history has dropped its hammer upon that world time and time again. Giangrande weaves in references to the October Crisis of 1970, a Swissair bombing from the same year (which killed a former lover of Gerard’s), and other events that have helped shape Valerie into who she is.

    While Giangrande’s symbolism is at times heavy-handed – the constant ticking of clocks is more distracting than evocative – she makes up for it with prose that absolutely shimmers. What’s more, her recapitulation of what is was like to watch 9/11 unfold on television is engrossing in its verisimilitude. DeLillo, Amis and Foer could learn a thing or two from her.

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