The Submission, by Amy Waldman

Amy Waldman's debut novel asks us to take a long look at ourselves and  be disappointed. Or to look at the aftermath of 9/11 and ask, "Could we have handled that any worse?"

The novel opens with a vote to select a design for the 9/11 memorial. The contestants' names had been detached from their submissions, and now the winner's name is revealed: Mohammad Khan. "There were a few gasps," Waldman writes, "and 'hmmms,' an 'interesting,' an 'oh my.' Then: 'Jesus fucking Christ! It's a goddamn Muslim!'" as Khan's submission form is passed around the table.

Some members of the jury responsible for choosing the design—made up of city bigwigs, architectural critics, and a representative of the victims' families—immediately suggest abandoning Khan's design and going with their second choice. Others think they should stick with Khan. But is he "suitable"? Is he "really American"? Would choosing his design be "a healing gesture" or merely "multicultural pandering"? Would it be offensive to the victims' families? Should the families be more "tolerant"?