A Fall Of Marigolds Summary

Susan Meissner

A Fall Of Marigolds

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A Fall Of Marigolds Summary

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Tragic events, a scarf, and 100 years separate two storylines stemming from societal tragedies and shared facets of the universal human condition.  In A Fall of Marigolds novelist Susan Meissner creates a tale that is as much one shaped by mood as it is by plot and characterization.  Taryn Michaels in September 2001 and Clara Wood in 1911 both suffer great loss amid devastating historical events in New York City.

Ten years after the attacks on the World Trade Center, during which Taryn’s husband was killed, she is working in the textile industry as a restorer and thinks of a scarf with a marigold pattern that she had seen just once, on September 11, 2001.  Her memory of the events of that day haunts her, manifesting itself largely as survivor guilt connected to the death of her husband while she was otherwise occupied.  The plan was for her to meet him the morning of the attacks at a restaurant atop one of the buildings.  Her happy intent was to reveal to him that she was pregnant with their child.  She began the day routinely conducting a business matter entailing meeting a client who desired a copy of a marigold scarf.  Turmoil had already ensued by the time she left her meeting and entered chaos filled the streets.  Having forgotten her phone, she borrowed one from a stranger named Mick Demetriou but was unable to contact her husband, Kent.  A decade later Taryn hears from Mick who wishes to return the scarf she had left behind on that fateful day.  Ultimately a friendship develops as they effort coming to terms with the events of the day they first met.  Taryn attempts to return the scarf to its owner but is told to keep it as it has more significance to Taryn.

Juxtaposed with the “modern” tragedy of the Trade Center attacks is the earlier Lower Manhattan Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of March 1911, which provides the backdrop for the novel’s other plotline.  Clara Wood was working as a nurse in a clinic at the ill-fated building and fell in love with Edward Brim whom she met there.  Brim was waiting for Clara on the building’s ninth floor when the massive fire broke out causing him to jump from a window to his death.  By September of that year Clara is working as a nurse on Ellis Island in hopes of isolating herself from her loss.  Presently, Andrew, a Welsh immigrant whose wife died during their passage to America, captures Clara’s fancy.  As a result of fetching his wife’s belongings at Andrew’s request to prevent them from being destroyed, Clara discovers that Lily, the late wife, had been harboring the secret that she had been married to another man and had deceived Andrew about it.  This upsets Clara but she does not share the information.  When Ethan, a new doctor becomes attracted to Clara he questions Clara’s growing attachment to Andrew leading to her agreeing to move to a different ward.  Adding to the intrigue is Clara’s discovery that Edward was engaged at the time of his death.

The marigold scarf serves as both a bridge between the two plotlines and as a symbol of the grief of Taryn and Clara.  In the 1911 storyline Clara first encounters the scarf as it is worn by Andrew upon his arrival at Ellis Island.  It comes into her possession when she collects Lily’s belongings to prevent them from being incinerated and Andrew leaves it behind for her after his discharge from the Ellis Island hospital ward in which he had been treated.  The scarf was the same one that Taryn encounters on 9/11.  Both women endured the loss of love during dark times.  Clara finds herself on Ellis Island, isolated from the rest of the world and the aftermath of the destruction of the building fire that led to the death of Edward.  Taryn isolates herself from the emotions she had worked to avoid since the fall of the towers.  That a scarf emblazoned with bright marigolds touches both of their lives perhaps hints at a potential ray of brightness in the dark.  The stories of Taryn and Clara both have as their central settings landmark buildings in which not only the love interests of the main characters meet their deaths, but at which many workers jumped to their deaths rather than being incinerated.  In addition, the impact of the buildings and their destruction is that both women watched first hand as the tragedies unfolded putting them in the position of being engulfed in personal loss amid more widespread devastation.

Meissner’s novel is one of love and loss and of humanity within inhumanity.  Unlike pure historical fiction, the events of the World Trade Center attacks and of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, and for that matter of using Ellis Island as a setting, the text remains pure literary fiction more than historical fiction.  History is the frame, not the message.