The Submission does more than capture America at its worst: it captures the worse Americans. America is thought to be some righteous land of the free, a dream of equality and liberty, but the truth is that the United States has some work to do, and Amy Waldman calls the “Most-Powerful-Nation-in-the-World” out.
Waldman portrays all of America. Her characters are more than believable-- they seem like real people. From the right-wing radio host and a witless journalist who devises slogans such as “I Slam Islam” and “The problem with Islam is Islam,” to wishy-washy politicians (the President that doesn’t do anything but make a statement to the press), to a retired old man who makes decisions based on his feelings below the waistline, Waldman has them all.
She describes the reality of life, it is almost as if reading her pages was people watching downtown. Particular detail like “She ate ramen noodles from the vending machine, their texture just a few molecular recombinations from the Styrofoam cup containing them” makes the novel appear to be non-fiction.
Yet, she does not get too descriptive with her writing and overload it with witty images. With the help of her sagacious statements, “Nothing in life gets dropped without someone else having to pick it up” are borderline prophecies.
These thematic statements help the novel on two levels: to connect the reader with a greater depth of reflection, especially in accordance with the characters, and to act as a social critique on modern America: “Perhaps this was the secret to being at peace: want nothing but what is given to you.”
Although the third person narrative switches between chapters, allowing the reader to develop an authentic interest to almost all of the characters (--even for Sean, a prejudice man who is in charge of picketing against the “Victory Garden”--) it is clear that Claire and Mo are Waldman’s warriors amongst the social angst.
Claire, a 9/11 widow selected to represent the families on the jury choosing the memorial, never looses sight of the real America, the one without discrimination and equality: “It will send a message, a good message, that in America, it doesn’t matter what your name is.”
Even Mohammed Khan, the Muslim American architect whose winning design was chosen to be the memorial at ground zero, does not loose his confidence or composure in the America he knows: “But sometimes America has to be pushed—it has to be reminded of what it is.”
The faith that America can reach its true potential is Waldman’s drive for the novel. A character in the novel asks, “But does America want to live in peace with Muslims?” Perhaps a more accurate question would be does America want to live in peace...?