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Stock Characters in 9/11 Fiction

Homosociality and Nihilist Performance

Sandra Singer

Stock Characters in 9/11 Fiction considers fictional work of the time subsequent to the attacks. The book develops and investigates models of stock characters in 9/11 fiction who promote the trauma meme within a narrative arc of tragedy; the conceptual evolution of trauma and media as thematic arcs is interpreted within specific 9/11 novels and in correspondence with other terrorist fiction. The almost exclusively male stock character protagonists include the male homosocial perpetrator and the tightrope walker. Among the more recent authors discussed are Amy Waldman and Thomas Pynchon, whose novels illustrate the way characters inhabit media models, rather than, as previously thought, using media for disseminating terrorist events and messaging. Other featured writers include Bernhard Schlink, Don DeLillo, Claire Messud, Ian McEwan, Joseph O’Neill, and Colum McCann. Stock Characters in 9/11 Fiction is a valuable text for scholars of 9/11 fiction, as well as for professors and university students studying contemporary literature.

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Chapter 3. Self-subtraction from the System: The Sleeper Cell in Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children


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The Sleeper Cell in Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children

Focusing history, politics and philosophy through character is Messud’s style. Structuring a novel through relationships highlighting a character’s development started with her first work, When the World Was Steady (1994). Infidelity, open relationships, and sexual fantasies and experience drive the progression of Messud’s fiction in The Last Life (1999), The Emperor’s Children (2006), and The Woman Upstairs (2013). The focus of this chapter, The Emperor’s Children garnered widespread attention and brought renewed interest to her opus, though what were attributed as 9/11 themes of historical entanglement and human estrangement are recognizable from her first work.1 With respect to The Emperor’s Children, Messud said in an interview, “if you write a contemporary novel, how can you not take (9/11) into account? … It’s the elephant in the room. When I began [The Emperor’s Children] the first time, it was in the world we lived in then; when I began it the second time, it was no longer the same world” (Stoffman). In her novel, Messud suggests to the reader both what is new or not new for her characters as a result of the 11 September, 2001 attacks on the United States.

But focusing on the 9/11 “elephant in the room” reveals both 9/11’s voluminous, mythic presence in the Western mediascape and points to the rise in America of the Republican Party whose icon is an elephant....

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