All That Is Solid Melts Into Air
by Carole Giangrande
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Inanna Publications (May 15, 2017)
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 traveler (who she suspects is unfaithful) and she’s the opposite: quiet, with an inner life she nurtures as a horticulturist. 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 These Good Hands
“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 The Largeness of Rescue
I’ve found your gardening website, and it feels like Eden before sin, he wrote. Valerie went online and told Matt to pitch the holy water and talk like a normal human being.
When she was little, Karen would tell her that if you put a cattail in water overnight, you’d have a kitten in the morning. Valerie was made when it didn’t work.
His house on Groves Island was so dark indoors that smells were amplified, the way that creaking sounds at night seem louder and more threatening than they are. To a teenage kid, the place smelled dangerous, reeking of killer chicken grease from last winter’s soups and Vicks Vapo-Rub from January’s chest colds.
As she thought this, all kinds of switchboard circuitry started flashing in the nosybody center of her brain, telling her to buzz off, beat it, MYOB, take a hike because of the look Gerard turned on her.
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.
About Carole Giangrande
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 and the novellas Here Comes The Dreamer and Midsummer. Her third novel, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air will be published in Spring 2017. She’s worked as a broadcast journalist for CBC Radio (Canada’s public broadcaster) and her fiction, poetry, articles and reviews have appeared in Canada’s major journals and newspapers (Her essay “Goshawk” was Lyric Essay Award Winner in the Eastern Iowa Review, 2016). She’s read her fiction at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, at the Banff Centre for the Arts (as an Artist-in-Residence), the University of Toronto, on radio and at numerous public venues. She has recently completed another novel.