Sunday, August 20, 2006

Triangle by Katharine Weber

The first book I finished on my vacation is Triangle by Katharine Weber. It is a novel about the last survivor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on March 25, 1911. The book is filled with fascinating characters. George Botwin, a character of the subplot is delightful and carefully drawn. His music and artistic vision are wildly creative and compelling and stay with me. Ruth Zion, the feminist historian who was recording the oral history of Ester, the main character and survivor of the fire and who is writing an academic book on the fire, is a funny character who feels like someone that I know. The Triangle factory fire is interesting to me because of how many women died and the safety reforms in workplace conditions that followed it. Chris Llewelyn also used this material in her fine book of poetry, Fragments from the Fire, published in 1987 and winner of the Walt Whitman Award.

Yet, Triangle for me came up short in it's telling. The story was transparent and while that seems to be intended, it had the characters and the narrative to make a powerful and memorable book, but it fell short into a disjunctive narrative utilizing too many styles. Near the end a long chapter is devoted to an ostensible article about George Botwin in a newsmagazine. It's interesting because I find George interesting, but it is not the narrative whole that I was expecting and hoping for with this potent material. I recommend it because it is a fun read and it is unusual to read a story about women and a story with central characters who are feminist, but when I finished it I felt sad that the people in the book and the history behind the book were not given more creative time and attention to form a really stellar novel.

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