By Amy Brozio-Andrews

The Writing on the Wall
Lynne Sharon Schwartz

After years of suppressing the tragic losses that marked her teenage and young adult years, Renata's life has been reduced to working as a librarian specializing in languages and her files -- collected newspaper clippings about people changing their lives. She's emotionally withdrawn, feeling as if she's failed her twin sister, niece, and mother; it's safer for her not to get involved with other people.

When the World Trade Center is attacked on September 11, 2001, Renata is as shocked as anyone else, and in the aftermath, events unfold that force her to face up to and deal with what she's been burying all these years: the death of her twin, the disappearance of her niece, the mental and emotional breakdown of her mother, and the person she holds responsible for it all.

As she cares for Julio, a child orphaned by the death of his mother in one of the towers, and then a mute teen she finds wandering downtown Manhattan, Renata's life reverberates with the echoes of her lost niece and dead sister. Struck by the resemblance of the girl to her sister, Renata is stunned when it occurs to her that this could be her sister's child and she calls her Gianna, her niece's name.

When Renata realizes she may lose Gianna a second time, she's finally forced to reckon with the terrible disintegration of her family and its effects on her life, deciding if she has the strength to go on with her life and stop dwelling on what was, rather looking ahead to what might be.

The Writing on the Wall is a sophisticated literary analysis of loss and grief; the events of September 11, 2001 frame Renata's journey to acceptance of her loss, and her feelings of anger, guilt, and betrayal. Schwartz's tone is reserved and respectful. Her prose is thoughtful and measured, approaching the events of that day with sensitivity yet never shying away from the reality of what happened.

The characters are well developed and quite believable. Schwartz' revelation of detail, especially in regard to what really happened in Renata's family, is slow and steady, always bringing the reader closer to the knowledge that Renata most wants to deny, like peeling back the layers of an onion. Schwartz uses the character of Renata to comment on language and how we use words, even and especially imperfect ones; "lost" and "missing" indicate a faith in the person's eventual return, while other languages distinguish between what is lost and may be found and what is lost forever. In the same way that a map is not a complete picture of a place, Schwartz explores how language does not adequately reflect reality, especially in times of loss and grief.

It was only a matter of time before September 11, 2001 appeared on the publishing landscape. Nonfiction books were published relatively quickly, full of facts and figures, they gave us a by-the-numbers look at what happened while fiction gives us a look at the heart of what happened. The Writing on the Wall is worthy of the wait.


Your Home as a Sanctuary: A Practical Guide to Creating the Perfect Space for Body and Soul
Josephine Collins
Ryland Peters & Small

Full of do-it-yourself activities designed to get readers thinking creatively about the physical and emotional place they call home, Your Home as a Sanctuary: A Practical Guide to Creating the Perfect Space for Body and Soul is lush with beautiful photographs that are sure to inspire readers seeking to find refuge from busy lifestyles. More concerned with working on readers' living spaces than decorating styles, the book opens with advice for readers on how to realistically look at their homes, offering list-making opportunities designed to help readers think about the home they have, how it compares to the home they want, and how to bridge that gap.

With practical advice on cleaning, including common-sense suggestions for daily, weekly, and monthly tasks, it's easy for readers to adapt Collins' ideas to their own homes and routines. Paired with advice on how to thin possessions, organize the things you want to keep, and ideas for arranging the household items you use regularly, Collins' overviews of cleaning essentials, plus their natural alternatives, round out a pretty thorough guide to keeping your home fresh and welcoming.

Collins reinforces not being too hard on yourself -- either in completing a list of tasks designed to bring you one step closer to a relaxing home or changing behavior that doesn't contribute to the vision of your home that you have in mind. Her tone is warm and accepting; in talking about how to organize your closets, attic, and shelves of unwanted and unused items, Collins takes care to urge readers to find balance and harmony; it's okay to keep things with sentimental value, or possessions that have been passed on through generations. Keeping the big picture in mind, the vision you have of your home -- that's what is most important.

The list at the end of each section of the book, "Ten Things You Can Do Right Now," is great for people who are impatient and want to get started right away. Your Home as a Sanctuary includes: assessment of each room, arrangement of furniture and traffic flow, cleaning, purifying, and organizing.

Readers interested in creating harmony in their home will find resources and advice on using colors, incense, crystals, herbs, and essential oils to their fullest advantage. If you're at all skeptical about numerology, crystals, and such, there is still a lot that's valuable in the book; however you'll likely pass on certain chapters.

Every page is full of color photos, which are gorgeous to look at, but since they're not connected to the text to any great degree, they're of rather limited use. The credits indicate that these are indeed real, lived-in homes, but they still have that vacant sort of magazine quality to all of them.

Your Home as a Sanctuary provides readers with tools to pare down and organize possessions, maintain a clean and orderly home, and cultivate harmony through color, scent, and other holistic methods.


© Melt Magazine 2005