By Melissa Rose Bernardo
Updated May 25, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

A 9/11 backdrop is no longer original. But using 9/11 as analogy is risky, potentially exploitative. In A Day at the Beach, an entrancing tale of 24 hours in a troubled marriage, Helen Schulman writes about that day with journalistic detachment (doggedly matter-of-fact descriptions of brushing teeth or pouring coffee); yet she exhibits an artist’s eye for detail — likening repetitive TV news footage to the iconography of Jasper Johns, using René Magritte to illustrate a surreal burst of daylight (”it emanated from the ground instead of the sky”). As for the intriguingly ambiguous ending, the possibilities could provide material for two more novels. A-