20 September 2007

Falling Man, by Don DeLillo

Scribner, New York 2007. 246 pages. ISBN 1-4165-4602-2.

Don DeLillo wrote this book about a few people living in New York City at the time of the September 11, 2001 hijacked airliner attack on the World Trade Center. One of the characters, Keith, is a survivor of the Towers who walked out with his life, barely ahead of the collapse.

Keith, his wife Lianne, their son Justin, and many other New Yorkers are portrayed in this novel in a kind of shock-dulled atmosphere where the horror and bizarre intensity of so many sudden deaths has rendered normal life practically impossible, and at the same time so very valuable, so very dear.

The prose reads to me like ocean waves lapping at the shore. In and out, quiet but overwhelming in their persistent sound. (An earlier DeLillo novel is entitled White Noise. I don't believe I've read it, but I may have.) DeLillo is a master, I've not been disappointed by a word of his choosing.

Nothing is the same now. Whether it's our fault, or the fault of forces and persons beyond our control, we are indelibly changed, no longer innocent or naive.

A European (German?) man in the story declares that America's fate is to become irrelevant.

"...Soon the day is coming when nobody has to think about America except for the danger it brings..."

And later:

"...There's an empty space where America used to be."

The Falling Man of the title is a performance artist whose repeated work is to fall from high places, jerked to a stop by "... an arrangement of straps under the dress shirt and blue suit with one strand emerging from a trouser leg ..."

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