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A Widow's Walk

A Memoir of 9/11

About The Book

On September 11, I dropped my son off at his second full day of kindergarten. The sky was so blue it looked as if it had been ironed. I crossed the street, ordered coffee, and sat to wait for my husband to meet me. It was our eighth wedding anniversary and Dave and I were about to begin a new chapter in our seventeen years together. Sipping coffee, I watched as a line of thick black smoke crept across the sky from Manhattan, oblivious to the fact that my life was about to change forever.

On September 11, 2001, Marian Fontana lost her husband, Dave, a firefighter from the elite Squad 1 in Brooklyn, in the World Trade Center attack. A Widow's Walk begins that fateful morning, when Marian, a playwright and comedienne, became a widow, a single mother, and an unlikely activist.

Two weeks after 9/11, the city attempted to close Squad 1, which had suffered the loss of twelve men. Known for her feisty spirit and passionate loyalty, Marian, who was still reeling from her profound loss, began to mobilize the neighborhood to keep the firehouse open. From this unlikely platform the 9/11 Widows and Victims' Families Association grew. Over the next twelve months, Marian struggled with the tragedy's endless ripple effects, from the minute and deeply personal—she wonders who will play Star Wars with her son, Aidan, and carry him on his shoulders; to the collective: she works to get families and widows necessary information about the recovery effort and attends private meetings with Governor Pataki, Mayor Giuliani, Senator Clinton, and Mayor Bloomberg.

Through it all, Marian's irrepressible humor is her best armor, as well as evidence of her buoyant strength. Written with great heart and humanity, A Widow's Walk is a timely opportunity for remembrance and a timeless testament to love's loss and the resilience of the human spirit.

Reading Group Guide

Widow's Walk
Marian Fontana

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Marian’s memoir is incredibly sad in so many moments and hilariously funny in others. What is the role of humor in her story? What is the role of humor in grief and in healing?

2. Marian experiences both a very personal loss, but also a public loss. September 11 was a national event and Dave’s death became part of the history and legacy of that day. On page 114 Marian writes, “What happened to our husbands and so many others has made privacy impossible.” In what ways is Marian’s loss the same or different than if Dave had died on a regular day in the line of duty?

3. In the year after 9/11 Marian witnessed an astounding outpouring of concern and generosity from people all over the world and also encountered people who were insensitive and obtuse about her loss. How do you explain these wide disparities in people’s reactions to September 11? Are some people genuinely compassionate and others not? Do you think 9/11 affected people who lived near the tragedy or had a connection to New York more than other people?

4. Marian and Theresa feel bad when they realize they are getting different treatment as widows of firefighters. Kathleen, who is with them, refers to their checks as “blood money.” Do you think the families of non-firefighters were treated fairly after 9/11? How do you think their experience differed from that of firefighters’ families?

5. Throughout the book, many of the widows of Squad 1 reported getting “signs” from their husbands. Were there really signs, or did the women imagine them in order to reconnect with their husbands?

6. Were you surprised to learn about the closeness of neighbors, the strong community identity, and the outpouring of support demonstrated by the candlelight vigil that thousands of people attended in Prospect Park? Did you have impressions about New Yorkers that were either confirmed or changed by Marian’s story?

7. Marian was raised by a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. She says she does not consider herself particularly religious, only attending church on holidays; but she thinks a lot about God after Dave’s death. How do you think her dual religions informed her spiritual understanding of the events of September 11 and the death of her husband?

8. Marian is a writer, performer, and comedienne. The first thing she sat down to write after September 11 was Dave’s eulogy. On page 158 she talks about the process of writing and the anticipation and insecurity of the creative act. What role do you think writing and creativity had in how Marian faced the months after Dave’s death?

9. On page 199 Marian talks about the exhausting attempt to be both mother and father to Aidan. Discuss the difficulty of trying to be both parents to a child who has lost one.

10. Aidan’s behavior is at times angry, stubborn, innocent, aggressive, and sweet. Discuss Aidan’s reactions to his father’s death.

About The Author

Marian Fontana, an accomplished comedian, actress, and writer, is the president of the 9/11 Widows and Victims' Families Association. She lives with her son, Aidan, in Staten Island, New York.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 11, 2006)
  • Length: 448 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743298247

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Raves and Reviews

"Compelling, gorgeously detailed and unsparingly honest. . . . Fontana's gifts for storytelling, dialogue and characterization make the memoir a pleasure to read, even as it rips you apart." -- Marion Winik, Newsday

"The author's passionate, irreverent persona comes through on every page. Her book has the addictive appeal of a smartly paced novel, and readers will close it wanting more." -- Michelle Green, People "Picks & Pans"

"A Widow's Walk manages to make an exhaustively covered public event into a riveting private narrative. . . . Hard to put down. . . it's the everyday humanity that makes [Marian] Fontana's story so real." -- Cathleen McGuigan, Newsweek

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