Picks and Pans Review: Incendiary

updated 08/22/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/22/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Chris Cleave

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A working-class Londoner sends her husband and son off to a Sunday afternoon soccer match so she can bed a seductive neighbor. As she watches the television over her lover's shoulder, she witnesses the death of her family as the stadium is torn to shreds by terrorists. Incendiary is written in the form of a letter from the nameless narrator to Osama bin Laden in the year following her loss. As she struggles to make a living, salves herself with Valium and suffers delusions, Cleave's protagonist pours out her rage, despair and shame. "Well Osama," she writes, "I sometimes think we deserve whatever you do to us...even when you blow us into chunks we don't stop fighting each other."

First-novelist Chris Cleave handles his topic deftly for the most part. At times in the narrator's downward spiral, her situation becomes needlessly, perhaps pointlessly, awful. Ultimately, though, Cleave's novel is a provocative exploration of 9/11 and its ugly aftermath.

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