Sunday, February 5, 2012

96 Hours by Georgia Beers

Publisher:        Bywater Books

Writing a book about the tragedy on September 11, 2001 will never be easy.  The horror, pain and suffering caused by the events on that day make it a topic that many don't want to read about.  It has to be handled with great caution to avoid being too maudlin or a nationalistic rant disguised as a patriotic story.  Georgia Beers used her considerable talent to approach the subject by dealing with a side event that reflected the best of humanity instead of the irrationality of the terrorist attack.

Erica Ryan and Abby Hayes are just two people trying to get to New York.  Erica is returning from a business trip and Abby is on another leg of her aimless wandering around the world.  Their flight is routine until they suddenly find their plane landing in Gander, Canada.  This small town finds itself inundated with people as US air space is closed and planes are diverted to other airports.  For ninety-six hours these refugees are stranded outside of the US as they desperately try to contact their families for information.  Their support system becomes the people of Gander who open their homes, stores and facilities to care for total strangers.  Erica and Abby are brought together by a special couple who take in four of the passengers.  Erica is a realist who doesn't believe in lasting relationships, but she finds the warmth of the Gander people reaching into her and she begins to connect with others in a way she hasn't felt in a long time.  Abby, an eternal optimist and free spirit, experiences just the opposite.  As she is drawn into the tragedy by the scenes on television and the fear of the people around her, she loses touch with her basic values and attitudes.  The women are drawn to each other for support, but they only have ninety-six hours and there is no guarantee that what they feel will last beyond that time.

Beers set herself a difficult time constraint.  Her characters only have four days to show their personalities, interact and create a plot.  Things have to happen more quickly and intensely.  The combination of fear and uncertainty from the attack and the confusion of being in a strange place heighten the emotions and the characters' willingness to form instant relationships.  It also makes all of it believable.

While this is a romance, it captures another story about the people of Canada.  A reader might think that Beers is exaggerating the openness and friendliness of the Canadians, but anyone who has spent time in the country knows that she did them justice.  That they would respond so freely to help the shell-shocked passengers indicates the quality of their national character and why they make such good neighbors for the US.

96 Hours tells a unique story that was lost in the chaos that followed the attack and it shows how life altering just a moment in time can be for people who are caught on the fringes of a historic event.  Beers captures the confusion and terror of that time, but tempers it into a palatable story of some heroic people and two women who fall in love.  This definitely ranks as one of her finest books.

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