A panoramic approach to a book about the Sept. 11 boat lift

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Jessica DuLong

Published September 7, 2021

In “The Art of Description: World into Word,” Mark Doty writes that Proust endeavored to “dilate the sentence toward its outer limit, so that one would feel the blur of space and time that the unit of syntax held all at once, as it were — like seeing a whole landscape reflected back to you in a single drop of water.”

I love this image of a droplet as panorama mirror. What if we writers could expand that notion beyond the confines of a sentence? How might we structure a coherent narrative out of a multitude of distinct episodes that will allow readers to experience a large-scale event? This question of how hounded me for years while I reported and wrote “Saved at the Seawall: Stories from the September 11 Boat Lift.”

My work on “Saved” started with a naive sense of relief. My previous book spans 400 years of history on the Hudson River where American industry came into its own. “My River Chronicles: Rediscovering the Work that Built America” explored the rise and fall of respect for hands-on work and craftsmanship, told through the stories of people making their lives and their livings on the river across four centuries. The stories in this new book, though, had taken place in the space of a single day. I’d hoped this would make the telling easier. It didn’t.