“There’s a Hole in the City” is a short story by Richard Bowes that was published on SCIFICTION on June 15, 2005.
Onto the review!
The Story: A Slow Walk Through The Aftermath Of Tragedy
A New Yorker narrates his life in Soho in the days following the September 11th bombing of the World Trade Center. Like so many others, he tries to go back to his old routine while paying tribute to the lives that were lost and the grief that still permeates the city. However, things get even stranger when the narrator’s friend Mags becomes convinced that she’s seeing more than just victims from the recent bombing, but from other tragedies in New York’s history, like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. Beyond the hole left by the attacks, there appears to be a hole in the city’s own timeline, as victims from other eras begin to pass through the modern-day chaos.
The Cast: The Ghosts Who Linger, Both In The Flesh And Out Of It
The unnamed narrator is less of a character and more of an observer for the sake of the reader, reacting to and commenting on the pain he sees among the young people who pass by his Information Desk at a college library. In contrast is his friend Mags, whose point of view we never get, but who is always out doing something, following up leads on the ghostly people she encounters, like their friend Geoff, who died long ago, and Jennie Levine, a young lady who worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. What makes their relationship interesting is how ghost-like the modern characters become in the wake of the attacks: just passing through the city, feeling disconnected in the middle of the cataclysm.
The Setting: The Smoldering, Silent, And Sorrowful City
Bowes captures the heartache of living in New York after Sept. 11, 2001. He doesn’t hit the reader with visceral pain like fire and screaming, but with the fallout that results from it. Through his writing, you can envision the empty streets of Soho, the people at the library crying at their desks, the candlelight vigils at the park, and the closed-up stores owned by Arabs and Indians.
There’s also the logistical pain: restaurants that don’t get enough customers, people who can’t commute to work, erratic phone service, and the need for “survivor parties” to try and relieve some of the tension. All this is filtered through the narrator’s sad and tired eyes, offering a view of post-9/11 New York that some Americans (especially those of us on the West Coast) might not have been able to see.
Final Verdict: There’s A Hole In The Heart Of The Reader
The idea of the “hole” in the city’s timeline is one that doesn’t directly affect the plot too much, but serves to illustrate just how badly the attacks affected the collective psyche. In some ways, the attack could be seen as bringing all those older tragedies into the light, so that the pain has always been there for the people of New York and thus becomes a little easier to bear.
It’s also strangely appropriate that I’m writing this review as earlier this week, Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the World Trade Center attacks, was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan. Much like this story, though, it won’t do anything to bring back the fallen of Sept. 11, but for some it might be a way of moving on, and if nothing else, the former may be a turning point in the War on Terror, but only time will tell which way it turns.
Bibliography: Bowes, Richard. “There’s a Hole in the City.” Digital Domains: A Decade of Science Fiction & Fantasy. Edited by Ellen Datlow. Prime Books, 2010.