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July 5, 2022 | Rome, Italy

Falling Man

By | 2018-03-21T18:27:49+01:00 June 1st, 2007|Recent Reviews|

By Don DeLillo

Picador, 2007. 246 pages.

DeLillo’s 9/11 dirge sifts through God’s burned-out details. Here’s one: Lianne Glenn notices that estranged husband Keith, home after surviving the twin towers attacks, stops shaving — “for a time, whatever that means.” For DeLillo, there is no minutia. His Kierkegaard-stained New York refutes the tiny. All is fraught. “Everything seemed to mean something,” says Lianne.

Their son Justin speaks of a mysterious man named Bill Lawton, which is how he hears bin Laden. For him, the towers have not fallen. The novel depends on signs and viscera, on intellectual haunting; shock is its lyric. Lianne counsels dreamy Alzheimer’s patients who seek “what is solid and does not melt.” But it’s a futile search in a time of melting (though a genial conceit).

Pointillist in tone, “Falling Man” borrows mood from “The Body Artist,” the author’s 2003 ghost story. Disembodiment — people as scar tissue — writes the novel’s music. Compare this to Ian McEwen’s “Saturday” and you get distinctly different versions of traumatic aftermath: McEwen depends on addition, the banal day-to-day, while DeLillo worships subtraction and creates the narrative mathematics to suit it. He succeeds superbly in making people into vacant lots; Lianne, Keith, and Florence Givens (another tower survivor), and Lianne’s mother Nina are phantasms in the “after” groping for a “before.” DeLillo majestically colors in the spaces between reconciled Keith — a “self-sequestered” poker player — and tormented Lianne — her father a suicide, a reunion complicated by ties between Keith and Florence (“its point of origin in smoke and fire.”)

DeLillo makes ill-advised are forays to Hamburg and the Florida Gulf Coast to implausibly trawl the mind of Mohammed Atta (“We die once, big time.”), but let that slide. This is a post-modern coming-of-age novel in which doubt, reconciliation, and epiphany are facilitated by a September day. It’s self-absorption that flirts with awe (DeLillo is a Camus New Yorker), making “tower-think” into a form of Christian existentialism. The last 10 pages, with Keith in one tower, are towering DeLillo: “The only light was vestigial now, the light of what comes after…”

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