Almost 150 people died in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in 1911. Triangle opens with a vivid account of the fire by the last living survivor, Esther Gottesfeld. After this opening, the book shifts to Esther’s granddaughter, Rebecca, and her partner, George, a very successful composer of pieces based on patterns found in nature, including the DNA of the rich who line up to commission personalized musical portraits. Rebecca and George, who are both very close to Esther, are facing the trauma of her imminent death (at age 106). There is one other key player in the novel, a very pushy, militantly feminist historical researcher, who provides some comedic moments, but also proves to be the spur to greater revelations, both about the fire and about Esther herself.
While the present-day story takes precedence in the first part of the book, the past and present soon begin to intertwine very satisfyingly. The historical recollections come through the researcher’s interviews with Esther, transcripts of the actual trial following the fire, and an early 1960s interview with Esther. These paint a picture of the conditions in the factory, and also provide a glimpse of Esther and her sister’s life as new immigrants i America. This is a fascinating novel, with a special appeal for those interested in musical composition.