four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-TriangleIn 1911, New York City’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women. The fictional Esther Gottesfield, then a 16-year-old pregnant Jewish girl from Belarus, survives while her younger sister and fiancé jump to their deaths from the ninth-story window. When more tragedy strikes, Esther raises her son—and then granddaughter, Rebecca—alone. Throughout her life, Esther (who turns out to be the last remaining survivor of the fire) shares her recollections of that tragic day with Rebecca and Rebecca’s composer partner, George. Then Ruth, a feminist historian interested in Esther’s story, intervenes, and the untold truths about Esther and that terrible day emerge.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 256 pages. $23. ISBN: 0374281424

Baltimore Sun 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Despite the historical facts at the core of Triangle, Weber has crafted a true mystery: Much is hidden in the ashes of that fire as well as in the double helixes of George and Rebecca’s lives. … Triangle is a strange, haunting and utterly compelling work that will linger long, like smoke after a fire." Victoria A. Brownworth

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"The author teeters, like her characters, close to the line marked ‘in love with her own cleverness.’ But she writes beautifully and makes wise choices, letting the reader work to unravel the mystery." Karen R. Long

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"Esther’s eloquence is stunning. … Weber makes a significant point in this remarkable, quietly brilliant novel, that we need to both excavate facts and utilize our imaginations—consider research and creativity as intertwined strands of DNA—in order to better know ourselves and our shared past." Jenny Minton

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Weber persuades us to go along with her by sheer storytelling ability. … Alert readers will discern the central secret underlying Esther’s prevarications long before George figures it out, and I think the author intends them to." Wendy Smith

Christian Science Monitor 3 of 5 Stars
"Weber excels at a kind of fully realized, three-dimensional fiction. … But the book is sometimes just a bit too clever for its own good." Marjorie Kehe

USA Today 3 of 5 Stars
"If women such as Ruth exist, I’ve been lucky enough to avoid them. George isn’t entirely convincing, either. … But however contrived the characters may seem at times, Weber’s intellectually and emotionally engaged writing ensures we care about them." Elysa Gardner

Critical Summary

Katharine Weber, whose grandmother worked for the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in 1909, explores one woman’s unreliable retelling of that experience. While this clever, haunting, and playful story works on multiple levels (with triangles the leitmotif), at core it functions as a mystery: Why didn’t Esther help her fiancé and sister escape the fire? "Weber’s primary concern is not what Esther did but how she lived with it," says the Los Angeles Times. Most critics praised the novel’s plotting and deep characterizations, if some questioned its contrivances (composer George Botkin wants to develop a composition from Sierpinski triangles). But at its "sharpest, Triangle affirms the often tricky relationship between fact and fiction and the subjectivity of all human experience" (USA Today).