’96 Hours’ by Georgia Beers

96 Hours (Bywater Books) is Georgia Beers’ eighth novel. Here, she takes on the sensitive subject of 9/11 and the 96 hours in the lives of two women after the towers fell. It is the story of Abby, a happy-go-lucky globe trotter on her way to visit her mother before heading out on the road yet again, and Erica, an uptight scientist on her way home from a depressing and disastrous meeting in England. It would seem that the two women couldn’t be more different from one another. When their plane is forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland because the US government has closed all American airspace in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Erica is not happy at having to share a huge room with hundreds of strangers while Abby seems to handle the situation with aplomb. Luckily, a Gander resident takes pity on them and invites them and two other men to stay at her home where they will be able to shower, have use of one of their hosts’ cars, decent food, and good company.

One of the funniest parts of the book occurs when transportation is arranged to take the Plane People, as the locals call them, from the huge hall in the Lions Club to Wal-Mart to buy essentials because their luggage was kept on their planes. Erica is appalled. She is used to paying hundreds of dollars for her clothing, dressing in high fashion whenever she leaves her apartment, and vowed in high school to never darken Wal-Mart’s doorstep. Abby must help her choose practical clothes while all the while trying not to laugh at Erica.

The two women end up in one another’s arms seeking comfort and sex to dispel their feelings about what the hijackers have done. The next morning, Erica is devastated when Abby acts as if their night together means nothing to her.

Beers occasionally makes broad sweeping statements about what all Americans were feeling in the aftermath of 9/11 and there are also a couple of editorial lapses that detract from the overall story–such as calling the characters’ calling their hostess by a different name. When the two women come together, Beers lapses into the use of the dreaded cliché of her characters “locking eyes,” etc. She regains her momentum after the scene, but not before many of her readers will be ‘rolling their eyes’ at the cliché.

Beers has based her story on fact. After the attacks on the towers, North American airspace was closed, planes were rerouted away from US airports, and 39 flights were ordered to land at Gander International Airport and 6600 people were forced to stay in Gander for three days. The generosity of the people of Gander has been told in books, plays, on radio and television.  And Beers seems to have captured the feelings of the stranded people for their hosts and one another as if she’d been there herself.

96  Hours
By Georgia Beers
Bywater Books
Paperback, 9781932859843, 272pp
November 2011