GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Israel unleashed new airstrikes on Gaza early Tuesday, hitting a pair of high-rise buildings believed to be housing militants, as Hamas and other armed groups bombarded southern Israel with hundreds of rockets. The escalation was sparked by weeks of tensions in contested Jerusalem.
Since sundown Monday, 26 Palestinians – including nine children and a woman- were killed in Gaza, most by airstrikes, Gaza health officials said. The Israeli military said at least 16 of the dead were militants.
During the same period, Gaza militants fired hundreds of rockets toward Israel, killing two Israeli civilians and wounding 10 others.
In a further sign of rising tensions, Israel signaled it is widening its military campaign. The military said it is sending troop reinforcements to the Gaza border and the defense minister ordered the mobilization of 5,000 reserve soldiers.
But, in a potentially positive sign, officials said Egypt was working on brokering a cease-fire.
The current violence, like previous rounds, including the last intifada, or uprising, has been fueled by conflicting claims over Jerusalem, which is at the emotional core of the long conflict.
In a sign of widening unrest, hundreds of residents of Arab communities across Israel staged overnight demonstrations – denouncing the recent actions of Israeli security forces against Palestinians. It was one of the largest protests by Palestinian citizens in Israel in recent years.
Egypt is trying to broker a truce, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says fighting could “continue for some time.”
Israel and Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.
Recent rounds of fighting have usually ended after a few days, often helped by behind-the-scenes mediation by Qatar, Egypt and others.
An Egyptian official confirmed that the country was trying to broker a truce. But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing sensitive diplomacy, said Israeli actions in Jerusalem had complicated those efforts. A Palestinian security official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the cease-fire efforts.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, has warned that fighting could “continue for some time.”
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, told reporters Tuesday that the military was in “the early stages” of strikes against Gaza targets that it had planned well in advance.
Israel carried out dozens of airstrikes, including two that targeted high-rise buildings where militants were believed to be hiding.
At midday, an airstrike hit an apartment building in central Gaza City. Local media said an unknown number of militants had been killed. But the force of the blast sent terrified residents, including women and children who were barefoot, running into the streets.
An earlier airstrike struck a high-rise elsewhere in Gaza City as people were conducting dawn prayers, residents said. Health officials said two men and a woman were killed. The woman’s 19-year-old disabled son was among the dead, residents said.
Ashraf al-Kidra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, said a total of 26 people were killed and 122 people were wounded. He said Israel’s “relentless assault” was overwhelming the health care system, which has been struggling with a COVID-19 outbreak.
The escalation comes at a time of political limbo in Israel.
Netanyahu has been acting as a caretaker prime minister since an inconclusive parliamentary election in March. He tried and failed to form a coalition government with his hard-line and ultra-Orthodox allies, and the task was handed to his political rivals last week.
One of those rivals is Israel’s defense minister, who is overseeing the Gaza campaign. It was not clear whether the toxic political atmosphere is spilling over into military decision-making, though the rival camps have unanimously expressed support for striking Hamas hard.
The support of an Arab-backed party with Islamist roots is key for the anti-Netanyahu bloc’s efforts. But the current tensions might deter the party’s leader, Mansour Abbas, from joining a coalition for now. The sides have three more weeks to reach a deal.
The violence has coincided with Ramadan
The current round of violence in Jerusalem coincided with the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in mid-April.
Over the weekend, confrontations erupted at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site in Judaism.
Over several days, Israel police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at Palestinians in the compound who hurled stones and chairs. At times, police fired stun grenades into the carpeted mosque.
On Monday evening, Hamas began firing rockets from Gaza, setting off air raid sirens as far as Jerusalem. From there on, the escalation was rapid.
Conricus, the army spokesman, said Gaza militants fired more than 250 rockets at Israel, with about one-third falling short and landing in Gaza.
The army said that a rocket landed a direct hit on a seven-story apartment block in the coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon. Israeli paramedic service Magen David Adom said it treated six people injured in the rocket strike. Two were hospitalized in moderate condition.
Later, a second building in the city of Ashdod was hit, lightly wounding four people, Israeli police said.
Conricus said the military hit 130 targets in Gaza, including two tunnels militants were digging under the border with Israel. He said Israel’s new system of concrete barriers and electronic sensors, intended to thwart tunnel digging, has proven effective.
He did not address Gaza Health Ministry reports about the dead children.
In Gaza, most of the deaths were attributed to airstrikes. However, seven of the deaths were members of a single family, including three children, who died in an explosion in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It was not clear if the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike or errant rocket.
Dozens of mourners took part in the funeral of Hussein Hamad, an 11-year-old boy who was among the dead.
More than 100 Gazans were wounded in the airstrikes, the Health Ministry said.
Israel struck scores of Gaza homes in its 2014 war with Hamas, arguing it was aiming at militants, but also killing many civilians. The practice drew broad international condemnation at the time.
Israel’s tactics in Jerusalem have drawn angry reactions from the Muslim world.
Regional power house Saudi Arabia on Monday condemned in the strongest terms what it said were attacks by Israeli forces against the sanctity of Al-Aqsa and the safety of its worshippers. The Saudi Foreign Ministry called Tuesday on the international community to hold Israeli forces responsible for any escalation.
Laub reported from the West Bank. Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion contributed from Jerusalem.
India’s surging case count of COVID-19 infections is growing at the fastest pace in the world, and on Sunday the country recorded more than 350,000 new COVID-19 cases, breaking a world record for daily COVID-19 cases for the fifth day in a row.
Relatives watched the blaze, which went on for hours
The fire went on for hours, Mark Herman of the Harris County Precinct 4 told KHOU 11.
“Normally when the fire department arrives, they have the vehicle fire in control in minutes, but this went on close to four hours,” said Herman.
The Tesla’s lithium batteries gave firefighters a much bigger challenge, Reuters reported.
The family member of one of the victims told KPRC 2 that relatives watched the efforts to put out the flames.
Nobody agrees exactly what was going on in the driver’s seat
Herman told KHOU 11 that he was sure nobody had been in the driver’s seat.
He said that one victim was in the passenger seat, and the other was in the back.
Sheriff’s deputies who recovered the bodies once the fire went out, “are 100% certain that no one was in the driver seat driving that vehicle at the time of impact,” he said.
Yet in a Monday tweet, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that the car had not enabled the Autopilot feature, producing a mystery about why nobody seemed to have been behind the wheel.
“Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled & this car did not purchase FSD,” Musk wrote, referring to the car’s Full Self-Driving mode.
When switched on, Autopilot keeps a car centered in its lane and maintains a steady distance from other vehicles, but does not make cars autonomous. Full Self-Driving mode automates some driving tasks, but still requires a driver’s full attention.
According to Axios, Mondale contacted Presidents Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter on Sunday to let them know his death was near. Mondale passed away in Minneapolis, according to his family.
Biden long admired Mondale, whose nickname was “Fritz.” At an event honoring Mondale in 2015, Biden said, “I took Fritz’s roadmap. He actually gave me a memo, classic Fritz, gave me a memo, as to what I should be looking for and what kind of commitments I should get to be able to do the job the way Fritz thought it should be done.”
Mondale’s political life spanned decades, starting with his career as a lawyer and serving as Minnesota’s attorney general, and including a later stint as an ambassador to Japan under President Clinton.
Before serving as Carter’s vice president, Mondale served as a US Senator from Minnesota and wrote a book in 1975, titled, “The Accountability of Power: Toward a More Responsible Presidency.”
After their term together, on November 4, 1980, Carter and Mondale lost their reelection campaign to former President Ronald Reagan and then running-mate George H.W. Bush.
In 1984, Mondale would run again, this time securing the Democratic nomination for president and choosing the first female running mate on a general election ticket, New York Rep. Geraldine Ferraro. Mondale and Ferraro were defeated by Reagan and Bush in 1984. They won only one state, Mondale’s home state, and the District of Columbia. It was the most lopsided general election defeat in US history, and when Mondale at the 1984 Democratic convention, Mondale said, “Let’s tell the truth… Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you, I just did.” The line infamously helped cement the eventual election defeat.
With a staunch commitment to liberal politics and deep involvement with Carter’s decision-making domestically and internationally, Mondale is considered to have transformed the role of the vice presidency.
After news of Mondale’s passing broke on Monday, Carter issued a statement calling Mondale, “the best vice president in our country’s history.”
At least 1 million people have died from COVID-19 in Europe, a top official from the World Health Organization said.
While speaking about the deaths in Europe, WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge told reporters in Greece that the COVID-19 remains a “serious” issue even as more people get vaccinated against the virus, according to the Associated Press.
The Americas have been hardest hit by the virus – with Brazil, Mexico, and the United States collectively recording more than 1.1 million deaths – but the 53-country European region that stretches into parts of Asia, is close behind.
There have been so many deaths that burials are happening in Sao Paulo cemeteries every few minutes, CNN reported.
Crematoriums can’t keep up, the media outlet reported. At one facility, CNN said, the demand for cremations exceeded its daily capability by three times.
The situation is bleak and, according to experts, is set to only get worse.
“We have surpassed levels never imagined for a country with a public health care system, a history of efficient immunization campaigns, and health workers who are second to none in the world,” Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of Neurobiology, said in an interview with AP. “The next stage is the health system collapse.”
The healthcare system is buckling under the pressure, AP reported. Almost all intensive care units are at or near capacity, the news agency said.
Daily deaths could also soon reach peaks of 4,000, an expert told AP. “Four thousand deaths a day seems to be right around the corner,” Dr. Jose Antonio Curiati, a supervisor at a Sao Paulo hospital, said.
When a Marine Corps assault amphibious vehicle sank off the coast of California last summer, the troops inside did not have any breathing devices. Nine US service members drowned.
The embarked service members were not carrying the devices because the Corps made the decision to get rid of them several years ago after assessing that program’s $15.9 million cost outweighed concerns about a possible catastrophe, two Corps officials told Insider.
Embarked Marines used to carry Waterborne Egress Capability (WEC) breathing systems as a component of their LPU-41 life preservers. In the event that an AAV sank, the bottled breathing devices would provide up to five minutes of air.
It is not a lot of time, but it is more than enough time to remove your gear, get your bearings, and take action, a Marine official, a former division commander, said.
Troops trying to escape a submerged vehicle can easily find themselves disoriented and struggling with their heavy gear as they desperately fight to reach the surface. A few extra minutes of air beyond what is in their lungs might be the difference between staying alive and dying.
The WEC bottled breathing device program was canceled in 2015, just four years after it began, as the Corps grappled with budget concerns.
“So 2011 to 2015, we have this program,” another Marine official, a former Marine Expeditionary Unit commander, said. “2015, if you recall where we were fiscally in 2015, we’re in sequestration.”
During the Obama administration, a deep budget cut known as sequestration impacted all federal spending, including that of the Department of Defense.
“I’m a big believer in the bottles,” the former division commander said. “But, in 2015, we were scrambling for money, looking under the cushions of the sofas, trying to make ends meet. This was a convenient thing.”
The former MEU commander explained to Insider that the Marine Corps measures risk by likelihood of occurrence and severity of outcome.
In this case, a decision was made that an accident requiring supplemental air was unlikely given the limited number and nature of fatal AAV accidents. The decision to discontinue the WEC bottled breathing device program was reassessed after tragedy struck last summer.
A tragic mishap
Last July, an AAV assigned to Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, sank off the coast of California as it returned to the amphibious transport dock USS Somerset from San Clemente Island during a training exercise.
The commander of US Marine Corps Pacific blamed the sinking and the resulting deaths on “a confluence of human and mechanical failures” in a statement attached to the investigation. He added that “this tragic mishap was preventable.”
The biggest problem was that the vehicle, which was initially carrying 16 service members, was not evacuated until it was too late. The vehicle sank with 11 people still on board. All but one service member made it out, but only three made it to the surface.
The three service members who made it to the surface each suffered drowning injuries. One did not survive.
As for the troops who died without reaching the surface, all of them were wearing body armor. Some had tried to drop their gear but were unsuccessful. In addition to the problem of excess weight, the life preservers they had on were not as effective as they would normally be given the depth at which they were operated.
The Marine officials Insider talked to about the accident did not say whether or not WEC breathing devices would have made a difference and saved lives in this situation. Though the investigation was silent on this point, the Corps has, as a result of this terrible accident, changed its mind on the program, the officials said.
“It has been reinstated,” the former MEU commander revealed. “This year, we will field WEC bottles for all our MEU units.”
AAV crews are temporarily using Helicopter Aircrew Breathing Devices (HABD) borrowed from the Marine Expeditionary Force air wings, but the WEC devices are being brought back for AAV passengers and crews.
“We have on contract now – and we’ll bring back as a program of record – the full WEC system, which includes the bottles [and] the charging station for the bottles,” he said, adding that “it will be a requirement to be trained and equipped with a Waterborne Egress Capability device to be in the back of an AAV or ACV.”
The ACV, or Amphibious Combat Vehicle, is the replacement for the ageing fleet of AAVs, some of which have been around since the mid-1970s. The Corps began rolling them out ahead of schedule last October.
Since the deadly accident last summer that claimed the lives of nine service members, the Marine Corps has not conducted any waterborne operations with its amphibious vehicles. These are not expected to resume until the service has finished making changes to the way these vehicles are maintained and operated.
Marine officials have stressed repeatedly that they are committed to preventing something like what happened last July from happening again.
The US Marine Corps assault amphibious vehicle (AAV) accident last summer that killed nine service members was a disaster, one in which failure after failure led to tragedy, a newly-released investigation has revealed.
A lot of things went wrong. At one point, just minutes before the vehicle sank, troops on board were using their cell phones as flashlights to try and open one of the escape hatches because the emergency lighting system wasn’t working. That was just one of many problems the investigation found.
An AAV is a heavy fully-tracked amphibious landing vehicle commonly known as an “amtrac” or “track” that transports as many as two dozen troops between ships at sea and shore.
Last July, an AAV assigned to Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, sank off the coast of California as it returned to the amphibious transport dock USS Somerset from San Clemente Island.
The mishap vehicle was carrying three AAV crewmembers, 12 Marines, and one Navy corpsman. Eight embarked Marines and the Navy sailor died, making this incident the deadliest AAV training accident in the vehicle’s history.
In the aftermath, the Marine Corps grounded its entire fleet of AAVs as it launched an investigation into exactly what happened. Waterborne operations have yet to resume.
The commander of US Marine Corps Pacific blamed the sinking and the resulting deaths on “a confluence of human and mechanical failures” in a statement attached to the investigation. He added that “this tragic mishap was preventable.”
‘Human and mechanical failures’
The command investigation found that the accident was caused by maintenance failures, delayed evacuation orders, and a failure to properly train embarked personnel on AAV safety procedures, among other issues.
As the 26-ton amphibious vehicle returned to the Somerset following a shore exercise on July 30, water was leaking into the hull of the AAV from multiple locations. All AAVs leak, but more water than normal was leaking in due to various maintenance failings.
Around 5:30 p.m. local time, the rear crewman informed the vehicle commander that the water inside the AAV had reached the deck plate. The commander is said to have replied: “Thanks for letting me know.”
Standard operating procedure is that embarked personnel prepare for water operations when water hits the deck plate. Evacuation should begin when water reaches boot ankle level, but that did not happen and the results were fatal.
In addition to multiple watertight integrity failures, the vehicle also suffered several other serious mechanical failures, from the transmission to the generator, which impacted the four bilge pumps in place to push water out of the vehicle. The communications system was also affected.
When water hit boot ankle level, the vehicle commander began waving the November flag, a blue and white banner signaling that a waterborne vehicle is in distress and in need of immediate assistance, but no order to evacuate was given, the investigation said.
As for the embarked personnel who were riding in the back, the investigation said that they “were not trained appropriately and did not realize how dire the situation was … when the water was at boot ankle level.”
Not only did they not receive a proper safety briefing prior to waterborne operations, but the investigation also found that many of the embarked troops had not completed the necessary training to know how to exit the vehicle in an emergency.
The commander waved the blue and white distress flag for 20 minutes but did not make use of the pyrotechnic signaling options available.
Due to a miscommunication, there were no safety boats nor support AAVs in the water at the time of the accident, though two other AAVs did eventually maneuver to assist.
By around 6:05 p.m., water in the AAV was about calf-high, and the rear crewman was recommending evacuation to the vehicle commander. The order to open the starboard cargo hatch and start evacuation did not come until water hit the bench seats.
Troops in the back moved to open the cargo hatch on top, but things did not go smoothly due to a lack of training and decreased visibility. It was “extremely dark” inside the AAV.
The command investigation said that the “embarked personnel were using personal cell phones as a lighting source due to the Emergency Egress Lighting System not functioning and the fact that no chemical lights had been used to mark the hatch handles.” The EELS had been inexplicably disabled.
By the time they got the hatch open and started getting people out, the AAV was only about six inches out of the water, leaving it extremely vulnerable. Making matters worse, an assisting AAV ran into the mishap vehicle, knocking it sideways.
When a wave washed over the struggling AAV, water came pouring in through the open hatch, flooding the vehicle.
Some troops were standing on the bench seats that run along the inside of the vehicle when “the force of the water rushing in knocked all personnel off their feet,” leaving troops inside shocked and disoriented, the investigation said.
Minutes later, around 6:15 p.m., the vehicle, which had been sinking slowly for about 45 minutes, tilted up and slipped beneath the surface, plunging to a depth of 385 feet.
All but one service member made it out of the AAV, but seven troops who made it out drowned before reaching the surface. One service member made it to the surface but died of drowning injuries.
The command investigation said that all of the deceased service members were wearing body armor. Some troops appear to have tried to remove their gear, but the life preserver negatively impacted those efforts.
For those that never made it to the surface, the life preservers were less effective at depth, especially given the excess weight troops were carrying.
The service members who died when their vehicle sank last summer were Lance Cpl. Guillermo Perez, Pfc. Bryan Baltierra, Lance Cpl. Marco Barranco, Pfc. Evan Bath, Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, Cpl. Wesley Rodd, Lance Cpl. Chase Sweetwood, and Cpl. Cesar Villanueva, and Hospitalman Christopher Gnem.
The Marine Corps said in a statement Thursday that their loss continues to be felt across the service.
‘Tragic mishap was preventable’
The I Marine Expeditionary Force commander said in a statement that “this entire mishap could have been averted and lives saved if the vehicle commander had followed [standard operating procedures] and ordered the embarked personnel to take off their gear and evacuate the mishap AAV at the appropriate time.”
But, there were problems at other levels as well. He noted that at the platoon level “discipline and combat effectiveness were seriously compromised.”
The Marine Corps has already removed the senior commanders of BLT 1st Battalion, 4th Marines and the 15th MEU. The commander of Bravo Company has also been fired. Unspecified disciplinary action has also been recommended for some others in the chain of command.
In the wake of the deadly accident last summer, the Corps adjusted the inspection standards for its AAVs. It also halted all AAV waterborne operations until the entire fleet of roughly 800 vehicles could be inspected. The investigation said that “a majority of the AAVs failed to meet the new inspection criteria.”
The AAV that sank and killed eight Marines and a sailor was not the only vehicle that encountered troubles during last summer’s training exercise.
A little over a dozen AAVs were involved in the training. One had to be left on the ship because it was inoperable, another had to be picked up from San Clemente Island by a Landing Craft Air Cushion after it malfunctioned, and one lost the ability to maneuver and had to be towed back to the island.
An inspection of the participating vehicles after the accident found that most were in “poor condition.”
One Marine veteran Insider spoke to previously about the problems with AAVs said that the vehicles “are death traps and need to be updated if not completely eradicated from the Marine Corps.”
Marine Corps officials insist the vehicles are safe as long as procedures are properly followed.
The Corps is in the process of phasing out its AAVs and replacing them with the new Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV). The service is also making dozens of changes to the way it maintains and operates amphibious vehicles to make sure that nothing like what happened last summer happens again.
Last month, I turned in the copy edits for my fourth novel. The next week, when I opened up the rough outline for my fifth, I was confronted with this question: does Covid-19 exist in the new book I’m writing?
Most said they were steering clear. Author Kate Reed Petty, whose debut novel “True Story” received rave reviews, admitted: “I’m not ready to process it.” Laura McHugh, author of the award-winning “The Weight of Blood,” and “What’s Done in Darkness,” said she’s “completely ignoring it,” though for a slightly different reason.
“I don’t know what the state of the pandemic will be when this book comes out,” McHugh said of the manuscript she recently started. “I’d rather leave it out than get it wrong.”
But some writers are diving in. I reached out to Jodi Picoult, the best-selling author who is known for mining social issues from school shootings to abortion to white supremacy, and she told me she’s working on two Covid-related projects.
“I feel as a writer it is up to us in the arts to really put into words what this has all meant, much like novelists were able to do that for 9/11, eventually,” Picoult wrote in an email.
To that end, Picoult – who is also a librettist – is in production for “Breathe,” an original musical she co-wrote with Tim McDonald, about how the pandemic impacts five different couples.
And though the novel she began co-writing with Jenny Boylan in April 2020 takes place pre-Covid, Picoult said she’s figured out a way to tell the story of the pandemic in the novel she’s just begun.
“We need to chronicle this,” insisted Picoult. “We’ve already forgotten things we said and thought in March 2020.” Picoult said she is in the process of interviewing patients (42 as of last week) who survived ventilation from the disease. (Obviously, the woman doesn’t sleep.)
Novelist Teddy Wayne, whose most recent novel “Apartment” was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, was also inspired by Covid, but in a very different way.
“I think my approach for anything that’s so monumental is that it’s more interesting to me to write about almost the mirror image of the thing rather than the thing itself,” he said.
The approach has worked for him in the past: Wayne’s first novel, “Kapitoil,” seems – from the description to the themes to the cover art – like a 9/11 novel, but actually takes place pre-2001. His way of writing about that seminal event was, he says, “not to write about it but around it.”
He’s taking a similarly indirect approach to writing about the era of Covid. Wayne was exposed to the virus in December and spent a week quarantining from his family. It was during this time alone that he looked through a file of ideas, saw something that had parallels to the pandemic, and started writing.
“Had there not been a pandemic going on, I’m not sure the idea would have appealed to me,” he said.
“The nature of tragedy,” she wrote, “is that it takes more than it gives, but it’s also produced some of our most iconic literature.” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Plague,” “Don Quixote,” among them. But, she warned: “From an artistic standpoint, it’s best to let tragedy cool before gulping it down and spitting it in everyone’s faces.”
Which brings us to the issue of publishing. Even established novelists have to sell the idea of their book to an editor; how many will green-light Covid novels?
Zachary Wagman, Vice President and Editorial Director of Flatiron Books, has an open mind.
“It’s up to the novelist to find an artful way to deal with it,” said Wagman, who pointed out that a thriller set during lockdown, or amid the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer could be really interesting.
But he admits that striking the right tone will be tricky.
“No one [in publishing] wants to think they’re profiting off this slow-moving tragedy,” said Wagman. Like Wayne, Wagman wondered if, perhaps, “the better way is to sniff around the edges.”
And what about the reader? Many of us pick up a novel for entertainment or escape, but some of us are looking for a kind of understanding we can’t get from news. As Albert Camus, author of “The Plague,” put it: “Fiction is a lie through which we tell the truth.”
Obviously, there are millions of truths and millions of stories to this pandemic, but how many are worth spending years writing? How many are important enough, insightful enough, to be bound and distributed?
Teddy Wayne, who, like me, has been mostly holed up at home since March of last year, put it this way: “It’s not my story to tell.” His comment got me thinking: I wonder if the pandemic stories that will be the most illuminating are percolating inside people who are currently too worn out by the reality of the situation to get creative. I’m thinking about a restaurant novel – like Stewart O’Nan’s “Last Night at the Lobster” – but set in March 2020 – or the story of a grocery clerk thrust into the politics of masking in the middle of a presidential election.
Maybe S.A. Cosby, author of the critically acclaimed “Blacktop Wasteland,” will use his experience as a former mortuary assistant to imagine the emotional truth inside the headlines about Los Angeles relaxing air quality rules to allow crematories to dispose of all the bodies that were piling up.
I asked Cosby what he thought of the idea and he was blunt: “It’s too raw.”
“I think I’m going to set my next book before the pandemic, if only because living through it has been so difficult that I’m just not mentally ready to deal with it in my work,” said Cosby, who told me he lost his uncle and five friends to the disease. “I will address it eventually, but hopefully by the time I do we will see a little more light at the end of the tunnel.”
I don’t aspire to write The Great Covid Novel, but as someone who writes about crime and justice (my first three books are murder mysteries and my next is a thriller), I spend a lot of time thinking about how people respond to stress. The mass unemployment, pervasive fear, and half-a-million dead Americans this past year have brought us an incalculable dose of stress.
Should my next novel explore a character whose job loss becomes a catalyst for criminal activity? Or a family forced back into the same house during lockdown? The more I think about it, the less appealing it becomes, and the more Wayne’s words ring true.
That said, I try to mine the “now” in my work; is avoiding this past year a cop out? I asked my agent if she had an opinion on the subject and she put my mind at ease a bit: “I don’t think we’re done telling stories about life before March 2020.”
I’ve got a couple ideas.
Julia Dahl is the author of four novels and teaches journalism at NYU.