Julia Frey’s diary begins with September 11, 2001, when she and her terminally ill husband, novelist Ronald Sukenick, decide to flee the falling towers. They abandon his wheelchair; he cannot climb on a boat. Hours later, covered with ashes, they struggle back through a neighborhood pitched into chaos, to look across the street, out his study window, at “the stage set for Dante’s Inferno.” That’s when Julia decides to write it all down — if only for the people who will find their bodies. Describing the first night in the the ruins, being evacuated, then returning weeks later, to live locked behind police tape at Ground Zero, she discovers that their world has totally changed, yet finally not changed at all. “Our previous problems didn’t magically disappear. They were just waiting for us to come back in the door.”
This powerful narrative describes double coping — with Ron’s progressing disability and with the after-effects of 9/11. Today vast numbers of unprepared people have found themselves plunged into a similar situation: nursing a gravely ill family member during a major emergency, at times without electricity, gas or clean water. This was so rare in 2001 that it was never mentioned in American home care manuals. But the Covid-19 pandemic and climate-change cataclysms like wildfires, killer heatwaves, freezes and flooding have made Julia's diary unexpectedly timely. The tale of how a couple of unheroic, eccentric writers and their irrepressible cat, Pearl, muddle through their own catastrophe and sometimes come out smiling is dedicated to others going through the same sort of disasters. There is even a happy ending.