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An American Story by Christopher Priest [Book Review] @gollancz #Tragedy #Loss #Conspiracy #Answers #Grief #AnAmericanStory #Gollancz #ChristopherPriest


This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

06.09.18 / Gollancz / Literary Science Fiction / Hardback / 320pp / 978-1473200579

For Readers That Like
  • Explorations Of Grief
  • Journalism/Writing
  • Insightful narratives
  • Historical Events
  • Politics/Culture
  • Conspiracy Theories
About An American Story

Ben Matson lost someone he loved in the 9/11 attacks. Or thinks he did – no body has been recovered, and she shouldn’t have been on that particular plane at that time. But he knows she was.

The world has moved on from that terrible day. Nearly 20 years later, it has faded into a dull memory for most people. But a chance encounter rekindles Ben’s interest in the event, and the inconsistencies that always bothered him.

Then the announcement of the recovery of an unidentified plane crash sets off a chain of events that will lead Ben to question everything he thought he knew . . .

Thoughtful, impeccably researched and dazzling in its writing, this is Ben’s story, the story of what happened to his fiancé, and the story of all that happened on 9/11.

Pick up a copy here: Gollancz / Amazon UK / Amazon US / Goodreads

My Review

British Freelance Journalist Ben Matson has moved on from 9/11 after two long decades. To think of that day is to remind himself of Lil, his lost love who was killed in the terrorist attack and his obsession with the missing truths and hope for closure over her passing. Ben’s peace is broken when his aquitance, excentric mathematician Kyril Tatarov, passes away and the news of an unidentified aircraft being found out in the ocean off the coast of Denver is shrouded in military secrecy. An opportunity for answers threatens to overwhelm Ben and cast him back into his investigations. He reflects on the event, the life that could have been, that was and what will be. Is there anything he could of said or done to save her? Was Lil on American 77? How did the impossible happen that day? Who is hiding the truth from getting out? Will the world be able to handle that truth?

Ben shares his experiences, before, during and after the events of September 11th 2001 and everything he and the world lost that day. The disaster and emotional turmoil that followed in its wake, the cover ups, misinformation and security wake up calls. Tatarov was key to Ben’s understanding of 9/11 and Ben feels his loss. The high profile secrecy surrounding this new wreckage that is rumoured to be a missing American plane reinvigorates Ben’s dormant need to understand. Can these new revelations provide some clarity and put that chapter of recent history to rest?

Christopher Priest’s An American Story is an insightful, emotional and gripping science fiction novel that reflects on the still unanswered questions surrounding 9/11. While the fictional aspects of this story lean towards conspiracy, the main sentement is a deeply cathartic search for answers that attempts to make sense of the grief that still exists in the heart of a nation, of many nations that all lost people that day. Trying to come to terms with the unforgettable attack on the World Trade Centre and how it was handled by the government, the politicians and the media. Priest himself has done the research, found credible sources of doubt, and certainty, of the official narrative of 9/11. Infusing Ben’s story with these details and creating an immersive novel that aims to attain and provide closure to those still left in denial or emotionally uncertain.

This is my first literary science fiction experience. Spending time with the physics, mathematical and technological aspects of the event, alongside the emotional depth of grief, was eye-opening. It is clear to see why people still haven’t had closure on this event but also don’t want to talk about it anymore. Christopher Priest hasn’t written An American Story to stir the pot but to reflect on how far we come since 9/11 and how strong the ripple effect from its occurence still is even two decades on.

Almost everyone above a certain age remembers where they were that day. I was in my school gym with a television rushed in to keep up with the developments. Everyone involved, or followed from abroad, processed 9/11 differently, many emotionally and some objectively. I like how CP reflected this in his story with Ben emotionally invested, trying to figure out what happened to Lil and shed some much needed light on the true story. And Kyril Tatarov who sees it as an objective, mathematical problem, something to be calculated and solved.

I knew very little of the details about the actual attack before reading this novel but CP does a fantastic job of splitting up fact from speculation, theory and bias. Ben’s hunt for the unbiased details of the event was intriguing, because there are so few, and I was with him every step of the way. I couldn’t believe some of the genuine mysteries, undocumented occurences and blatantly suspicious circumstances that exist within the combined narratives surrounding the terror attack. Structural integrity, aerodynamics, loss of information and conflicting witness statements baffle my mind. It was beyond intriguing to have all this information in one place. It obviously means a lot to CP to emphasize his fictional stance while also doing deep research into the many legitimate concerns about that entire attack.

There are three distinct themes to An American Story that provide different reading experiences. Emotion, calculation and speculation. Each of these aspects blend or fight against each other to unsettle or inform the reader. I got submerged in those moments, lost in all the endless wondering about facts, the physics of the destruction and emotional rawness that still sits under the surface. I can see it being quite heavy to some readers, I certainly flaked at times in third act (even Ben struggled at one point) but it is undoubtedly worth reading. It is a contrast to any other SF or literary novels I have read in past years in many great ways.

Christopher Priest’s science-fiction writing is informative, rich with detail. With plenty of insights into engineering, the technological standard of 2001 and the political manipulation of the information available. Very interesting. I thoroughly appreciated the fact that CP got into the psychological aspects of world changing events such as 9/11. Memory lapses, cognative dissonance and false memories brought on by extensive trauma. The brain’s many coping mechanisms and rationalisations when faced with the unimaginable. Psychology is one of my favourite subjects and I was shocked and fascinated by these insights.

I though CP was in his element with the subject matter but I did find the writing format was somewhat choppy. With parts, chapters, sub-chapters and time jumps between periods before, after and during 9/11 as well as a present day narrative all mixed together and overlapping. I do feel it flowed the way it was intended though and CP’s consistency in perspectives was impressive but it was slightly disorienting at times. Keeping each period of time separate yet each referencing another is a tricky feat but CP did a solid job. I did relish the connectivity of it all.

An American Story is as thought provoking and relevant as you could ever ask for and I highly recommend it to all readers. It is an important period of our very recent history that shook the world many times over, opened us up to war and changed the landscape of the future forever in a multitide of ways. There is still so much we don’t understand about what really happened and probably never will. Christopher Priest writes to acknowledge this and to honour and remember those lost in tragedy and it is a read worth everyone’s time

About Christopher Priest

Christopher Priest’s novels have built him an inimitable dual reputation as a contemporary literary novelist and a leading figure in modern SF and fantasy. His novel THE PRESTIGE is unique in winning both a major literary prize (THE JAMES TAIT BLACK AWARD and a major genre prize THE WORLD FANTASY AWARD); THE SEPARATION won both the ARTHUR C. CLARKE and the BRITISH SCIENCE FICTION AWARDS. THE ISLANDERS won both the BSFA and John W. Campbell awards. He was selected for the original BEST OF YOUNG BRITISH NOVELISTS in 1983.

Website / Goodreads


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