Tuesday, May 15, 2007

 

Falling Man by Don DeLillo

By Edward Copeland
Don DeLillo has written some great novels, blending urban angst and paranoia, swipes at rampant consumerism and the disintegration and reforming of family life in America in classic works such as Running Dog, White Noise, Mao II and Libra. Then came his epic: 1997's Underworld, a book gigantic both in scope and size.

After producing such a major work, you'd almost expect an author to be a little spent and it showed in his next offerings the forgettable The Body Artist and Cosmopolis and the mixed-bag of a screenplay for Game 6. Thankfully, DeLillo has returned with one of his most emotional books, Falling Man, and it tackles one of America's deepest scars: 9/11.


While Falling Man doesn't quite equal his earlier works, it does indicate a return to form for one of our most talented novelists and, really, there probably isn't any American author who could bring 9/11 to the fictional page with as much grace and insight as DeLillo does. In some respects, it's reminiscent of Libra, which painted a fictional portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald and the surrounding mysteries and intrigues that still surround JFK's assassination.

In Falling Man, the suicide hijackers aren't the protagonists, but DeLillo does delve into their heads a bit alongside his fictional characters before bringing them together on the fateful 2001 day. His writing is as crisp as ever and Falling Man may well be the most emotional of DeLillo's works as he tells the story of lawyer Keith Neudecker, who walked out of the wreckage of the towers covered in ash and how it leads him to reassess everything about his life, including his relationship with his estranged wife Lianne.

There's also his son Justin, who keeps searching the skies for "Ben Lawton" and his mother Nina, whose relationships change as well. The title refers not only to the horrific scene of people leaping out the windows of the World Trade Center rather than face the horror inside but also to a performance artist, who recreates similar scenarios using a safety harness. I doubt there are few Americans who weren't touched profoundly in some way by 9/11 in some way, even if they didn't know anyone directly affected, and the reconciliations and splits ring demonstrably true.

DeLillo tells the story in a concise, compact book that provides a quick read without sacrificing any of the turmoil it depicts fictionally and reminds a reader of personally. It's great to have DeLillo back on track, especially with a novel that in many ways needed to be written.


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