on 5 July 2010
Most people will remember where they were when the news of 9/11 reached them, and for a lot of them, the image of the people jumping from the Towers encapsulate the terror and tragedy of the event.
DeLillo uses art to imitate life inside the novel - the Falling Man of the title is a performance artist that pops up all over New York in the months after 9/11 in an upside down guise that recalls the real victims.
However, the book doesn't concentrate on this man as the main character, it focuses on Keith and Florence - who were in the tower when it was struck but worked for different companies, and their futile attempt to make sense of things by forming a strained relationship. Also Lianne and Justin, Keith's long-suffering wife and son, and a host of secondary characters appear to be coping with the event in various ways.
Any book that tackles a world terrorist attack is a big project, and I think that it's still too fresh (especially to an American citizen) to try and lay out generalised coping strategies. It seems that DeLillo was trying to make the family in Falling Man the embodiment of the New Yorker in the same way that Steinbeck made the Joads the very essence of the Okie during the Depression - and it doesn't quite work.
on 23 June 2015
I don't 'get' DeLillo. Not an easy thing to admit knowing that he's one of those writers you'd mention as your favourite if you were being interviewed to join a literature-in-English class in college. This is not the first Delillo I've read but it's going to be the last. Life - to use a cliche that would never appear in his work - is too short.
An earlier Goodreads reviewer described the experience as reading through fog and I agree - the quick jumps between narratives, the jumbled time frames, the missing years that are not made clear. Characters act without clear motivations and they think a lot about nothing much. One of the infuriating things - mentioned by the same reviewer - is the post Wolf Hall use of the pronoun without making it clear to the reader who it refers to. On more than one occasion I started a section thinking I was reading about one protagonist only to discover halfway through that it was another. This led to much re-reading, making the book a trial rather than a pleasure. The writer - and/or his editor - must know that this is the effect they are creating so why do it?
Now the hard part. Given Delillo's reputation and the praise lavished on this book I can only deduce that I'm not sufficiently equipped intellectually to cope with American literature of this standard. (I had a similar problem with Open City by Teju Cole.) Perhaps this is a lesson hard learned and I'll not be swayed by reviews to pick up a book that I know deep down is simply too hard for me. Give me characters I can relate to. Give them a story that makes me turn the page. Aah! We're back to that much derided term - give me readability!
One last thing: a shout out to Noma Bar who designed the cover picture on this edition. Simple but, dare I say it, her single illustration carried more emotional heft than all of DeLillo's 250 pages.
on 23 October 2007
In 'Falling Man' DeLillo tries to tackle the Big Theme of the 21st century - namely September 11, 2001 - and how it has impacted on the collective psyche. However, there is less of the virtuoso omnipresence of Underworld, for example, but more examination of the attack at a local and intimate level. Terrorism is by no means a new theme for Delillo, who has explored the ways in which political violence shapes society in many of his books. Here he also focuses on another traditional preoccupation, the way that mass media saturates the visual symbolism of such events until its original meaning becomes disjointed.
As with other DeLillo novels, the characters' lives are rendered dispiritingly unsympathetic by his cynical attitude towards modern (i.e, consumer) society. The dehumanisation and creeping inertia of the protagonists, for example, makes a deadening reading experience. Communication in DeLillo's novels is often so stunted and inarticulate as to seem emotionally retarded. This is probably the point, but it can also have the affect of feeling contrived and overstylised. DeLillo tells one strand of narrative from the perspective of one of the plane hijackers, which doesn't add an enormous amount to our understanding of the attack but reads credibly enough.
DeLillo is one of the great writers of modern American fiction, and isolated passages leave you breathless with their observational insight, mood and originality. But sometimes you wish that DeLillo had more empathy for his characters, as they seem so vacuous as to make reading his novels a distinctly cold experience. Nevertheless, DeLillo's unusual perspective is arguably much more satisfying to read than some of the more prosaic interpretations of September 11th already written and no doubt yet to come.
on 10 May 2007
`Falling Man' opens amidst the chaos of 9/11 as Keith Neudecker stumbles dumbstruck away from the Twin Towers. He is in a daze, can barely comprehend that anything is out of the usual. He makes his way to his ex-wife's house, to a life he knew before any of this happened. The novel follows Keith and the people around him as they struggle to understand an event that is beyond anyone's power of comprehension.
Keith's wife, Lianne, is reeling from the death of her father almost twenty years before. Now she runs writing sessions for those with dementia and worries that her own mind is fading. Their child, Justin, searches the sky with binoculars for Bill Lawton (Bin Laden) who speaks in a monosyllabic language and is certain to return. Lianne's mother and her art dealing lover Martin argue over the nature of God and jihad. Keith himself can only begin to remember that crazy morning by meeting with a woman who was there as well.
All the while a street performer named Falling Man is performing stunts across New York, leaping from heights and hanging frozen in the air, daring people to remember.
This is the world Don Delillo presents, a world which started long before 9/11 but whose consciousness was created in that fateful morning. If anyone should write a book about this subject then this is the man. With `White Noise' he expertly tackled the Cold War fear of nuclear fallout and death and now here he is tackling the modern paranoia: terrorism. He is a master of plotting the psyche of terror and this is every bit as good as `White Noise'. Falling Man is exactly what you wish for in a book, intelligent, witty and intensely poignant. Take this dialogue, could anyone else delineate that disbelief better?
"It still looks like an accident, the first one. Even from this distance, way outside the thing, how many days later, I'm standing here thinking it's an accident."
"Because it has to be."
"It has to be," he said.
"The way the camera sort of shows surprise."
"But only the first one."
"Only the first," she said.
"The second plane, by the time the second plane appears," he said, "we're all a little older and wiser."
`Falling Man' is caught in the crossfire between remembering and forgetting, it is a hazy, snapshot view of the lives that 9/11 shaped. It is written in a distorted, confused manner, with shifts in character and plot and time. This makes it difficult to follow, hard to understand, but then, nothing about the subject is easy to understand. There are those with dementia who can't help forgetting and the rest of the people who can't help remembering, those stumbling out of the grey dust of 9/11 and those who are inevitably falling into the grey mist of memory loss.
This is the mirage into which Delillo watches everything merge into uncertainty. The Twin Towers emerge from a still life painting, Keith struggles to tell what is live action and what is a replay in the sport on TV, religious belief leads to disbelief and vice versa, and Keith enters the world of professional Poker playing, desperate to recreate the Friday night game he enjoyed with friends before all of this happened.
You must read this book. Don Delillo has mapped the psychological fallout of 9/11 more superbly than I imagined possible.
on 19 July 2012
It's always a pleasure to discover a book you think is brilliant by an author who has published loads of other novels you've never read. So, while Don DeLillo's Falling Man is a difficult read, it is certainly worth a retro-review.
Published in 2007, the novel follows the story of one family after the World Trade Center attacks on that horrific morning in 2001. The story begins with Keith emerging from one of the towers, burned and uncertain. He gets picked up by a passing truck and asks to be driven to his eix-wife, Lianne's home. So begins a strange reconciliation, born out of the uncertainties of that day.
While I have read a lot of poetry that was written subsequent to 9/11, this is the first novel I have read that deals with the attacks. Stylistically, I loved this book. DeLillo writes with a poignant intimacy conveyed in elegant sentences. Like all truly great writers he makes me see what it means to craft a world from words. He writes a kind of poetry.
But it is his character's reaction to events that makes it such a powerful novel. Lianne is transfixed by the television, obsessed by the names of the people who died in the attacks. She struggles to accept that faith may have influenced those responsible. She feels this loss, in a way that evokes all of her previous losses.
Indeed, her life after 9/11 becomes the experience of loss, and we get a sense of the overwhelming grief of this moment in our history. I like this. It's not a political study, but an elegy, a lament.
All the way through the spectre of the performance artist, the falling man, haunts the pages. Is this a commentary on life in a new age, or is this insensitive, designed merely to shock and to anger?
This is not a novel that sets out to express a right way of feeling, a right way of grieving, or a right way of viewing the world after 9/11. Rather it is a novel about the ongoing nature of grief, about a changed world with which his characters struggle to come to terms.
It is beautiful, it is haunting.
on 9 June 2007
Most reviews of this novel I have seen are quite negative, many reviewers repeating the maxim that it's too early for any writer to truly deal with 9/11. I think in years to come, people will realise how perfect this novel is. We start and end with the main character on the actaul day, fighting to survive, and in between, we see him and his wife, son and others struggling to make sense of this event and the world they live in. Everything is fragmentary and there is a sense of numbness that I think Delillo creates wonderfully. It is a novel that leaves its mark on you (I am still hanuted by many of the images Delillo creates) and, alongside United 93, we have been given a text that helps the us to begin to unravel this bizarre world we are all living in because of this world-shaking event. Buy it, read it and be moved by the masterly writing of a true American genius!
on 10 December 2015
There are definite shades of Ballard and Roth amongst many other literary giants here. In some ways it’s difficult to fully articulate what De Lillo does, this isn’t always easy to follow, but for me it’s the power of psychology in his writing. By never really addressing the elephant in the room he succeeds in making the mood all the more troubling and sinister. I enjoy the way he references the shadows and the unknown, just subtle enough to let us know that there is something deeply unpleasant lurking just beyond the fringes that you cannot see or hear yet you feel it all the time. He did this to great effect in other works like “White Noise” too, drawing on contemporary fears and the idea of those dark horrors being truly realised.
He plays expertly on the anxieties of the everyday, those small fears we have that cast long and dark shadows and that are never really resolved or explained and the remnants are always left there to dwindle and simmer. This is not just a book about terrorism and its origins, but of loss and fear and coming to terms with those things. It’s about that suggestion of evil and the idea of our fears almost outweighing the fears themselves and what we do to try and combat and conquer those fears.
While there have been millions of words written about 9/11 surely few are as trenchant and poignant a those penned by award winning author Don DeLillo in Falling Man. He presents the small moments, minute observations, which in everyday life would be fleeting but in this case are crucial to the character's state of mind.
Readers are immediately caught by one of the most devastating opening lines in fiction: "It was not a street anymore but a world, a time and space of falling ash and near night." With those few words one is transported back to the shock, the horror of that dreadful day that changed our lives forever.
We see the devastation through the eyes of Keith Neudecker whose office was in the south tower. He emerges dazed, confused, carrying someone else's briefcase. When a helpful truck driver offers a ride he asks to be taken to the apartment of his wife, Lianne. They have been separated for some time and have a young son, Justin.
Lianne seeks to know why Keith has returned to her, while Justin responds to the tragedy by scanning the sky with binoculars - searching for another plane. As time passes Nina, Lianne's mother, reconnects with her lover and Keith finds common ground with another survivor.
Landscaping the emotional terrain of these people is DeLillo at his finest - staccato voices, brief phrases, revealing so much.
Later in the book we are privy to the thoughts of Hammad who "...thinks of the rapture of live explosives pressed to his chest and waist."
Reading Falling Man is almost painful, a reopening of old wounds. Yet DeLillo has so precisely captured the then and now of 9/11 that it merits attention by all.
- Gail Cooke
This rather unsettling book begins with Keith Neudecker emerging from the confusion and debris of September 11th. Without realising it, he has aquired someone's briefcase along the way and, without making a conscious decision, he heads for the apartment he used to share with his wife and son.
The characters in this novel try to make sense of a changed world. Keith and his wife Lianne's young son scans the skies with binoculars, a performance artist causes outrage and tensions are heightened. When Keith first appears, covered in dust, glass and blood, Lianne's first response is to turn off the television, "protecting him from the news he'd just walked out of."
This is a disjointed read, but it captures the conflicting emotions of that time and the events of that day in a thought provoking way. As Lianne's muses on the past of her mother's lover and Keith feels the loss of his poker buddies, as he returns the briefcase to a woman who shared his experience and a troubled city readjusts, the author confronts feelings of the 'before' and 'after' of events.
on 5 June 2007
Whether you are turning the events of 9/11 into money or into art you are open to attack for your use of so many people's pain. DeLillo deflects criticism by the searing way in which he conveys the impact on the lives of his protagonists and by the indirect incorporation into the narrative of a performance artist (the Falling Man of the title)and the angry reaction he provokes. Image upon image and idea upon idea pile-up in a poetically condensed account of the day and its aftermath focussed on an already dysfunctional family group. The result is psychologically powerful and gripping, but a harrowing experience for the reader.
The short sections dealing with one of the hijackers are less convincing: a problem that John Updike also demonstrated in The Terrorist.
For me DeLillo's best since Underworld.