America Widow is a graphic novel that tells the autobiographical story of Alissa Torres whose husband, Eddie, was killed in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11. This book follows the complicated path that Alissa’s life took after the events of that day.
Because she was pregnant when her husband was killed, Alissa becomes a kind of minor celebrity. That status, however, does nothing to alleviate all the frustration and pain she feels while dealing with the impersonal wheels of bureaucracy in order to get a settlement for her share of the 9/11 funds.
I was surprised at my reaction to this book. In some ways, this book sucked me in with its emotional honesty and real-life complexity. It is certainly the kind of book that will intrigue your friends who aren’t aware of the sorts of adult subjects that graphic novels are exploring these days.
Yet this book felt oddly out of date to me. Thankfully, the events of 9/11 are receding a bit–at least in my memory. It doesn’t mean I will ever forget the horror and pain caused by, nor our country’s intense anger over, the events of that day.
It’s just that so much has happened since then. I apologize if this is a bit political, but I find it difficult to think of the events of 9/11 without also thinking of George W. Bush, the Iraq invasion, General Petraeus, and all the politics around those issues. September 11, 2001 was one of the most tragic days in American history. Yet, in some ways, the pain of that day has been tainted by all the events that have happened since then.
The other reason that 9/11 has receded so much is because of our country’s current political situation. We’re all concerned and thinking deeply about the financial crisis and its effect on the economy. The events of 9/11 are a previous trauma, the last major horror that our country experienced. We’re dealing with this new trauma; the older trauma has receded to history a bit.
None of these subsequent issues takes away from the honesty and intensity of Alissa Torres’s experience, of course. They simply factor into why I felt a bit detached from her story.
Torres is thoroughly honest in her presentation. It’s quite moving to see her paralyzed by grief after the birth of her son, and it’s interesting to see her wade through the endless waves of bureaucracy as she pursues the money that is due to her. However, the strongest emotion in the book is one of loss.
Torres presents herself as a profoundly lonely woman whose normal life was torn asunder by events far outside her control. All she really wants is the love and support of her husband, but she will never be able to feel his love again in any real way.
I found the simple art style of Sungyoon Choi to be an intriguing match for the story. His slightly cartoony work makes the events more compelling somehow. Because the characters are drawn simply, they are easy to empathize with–and this makes Torres’s story more compelling.
The final few pages of this book point at an intriguing angle, one that I found compelling. As Torres emerges from her long depression, the book’s blue coloring moves towards a fully-colored approach. Flowers are shown in full color, and a flip of a page reveals a photo collage of Eddie’s life. Suddenly, his life, which was depicted in so much of the book, becomes more real to us. This character that had hovered over the book like a ghost is finally shown in all his real-life complexity.
I found myself sucked into this book, almost despite my complicated reaction to it. American Widow is compelling and intriguing, but then people’s ordinary lives are often more interesting than fiction.