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 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
Carole Giangrande's two most recent books (the novellas Here Comes The Dreamer and Midsummer) were both published by Inanna. A previous novella, A Gardener On The Moon, won the 2010 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest. She's the author of the novels, An Ordinary Star (2004) and A Forest Burning (2000) and a short story collection, Missing Persons (1994), as well as two non-fiction books: Down To Earth: The Crisis in Canadian Farming (1985) and The Nuclear North: The People, The Regions and the Arms Race (1983). She’s worked as a broadcast journalist for CBC Radio, and her fiction, poetry, articles and reviews have appeared in literary journals and in Canada’s major newspapers.
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.
As she walked uphill on Rue Maréchal Foch in the old
town of Saint-Pierre, Valerie heard clocks. There were
hundreds of them ticking, her ears itching with tiny
sounds, as if she’d stepped into a puddle of time, sending
up a swarm of minutes and seconds. She stopped walking
and glanced at her watch — seven-forty, Mid-Atlantic
daylight time. It was a foggy late-summer morning, the
steep, narrow street alive with pedestrians edging their
way around parked minivans and moving cyclists. If she’d
looked southward, back the way she’d come, she’d see le
barachois, the inlet that sheltered the town’s harbor from
the Atlantic Ocean. A few days ago she’d arrived at Saint-
Pierre, a dot of French soil east of Nova Scotia and south
of Newfoundland, a period at the end of a long Canadian
sentence. Not Canada, Valerie thought. Or her American
birthplace. A speck of France in the eye of the sea.
As she inched along the cobbled sidewalk, she heard
the sound again, the chatter of dozens of tiny, meshing
gears. Tick-tock, tickety-tock. She wondered where the
sound was coming from, and then she asked herself why
clocks couldn’t tick together on cue, like a well-conducted
choir. She’d read somewhere that time is an illusion. In
that case, their randomness wouldn’t matter.
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.