Falling Man — Don DeLillo
There are certain words you think of when you hear the name Don DeLillo and ‘easy’ and ‘relaxing’ definitely aren’t on that list. This is a short book but, boy, it made me work for it.
The novel starts and ends with a vivid description of a day that is etched on all our memories: the September 11 attacks. In between, DeLillo explores the impact of these events on a small group of people including a man who survived the explosion, his estranged wife, their children and a fellow survivor he connects with after the tragedy. DeLillo’s writing is layered and demanding which sounds like I’m complaining but in reality, it was a real and earned pleasure.
The prose is evocative and meaningful. He doesn’t make things easy for his readers by any means. There’s a lot of pronouns (who is ‘he’? Who are ‘they’?) but I found surrendering to the book and letting it lead me was best. And when I did, there was so much to discover.
Amongst the chaos, there were moments that were incredibly powerful from the two survivors of the attacks connecting over a briefcase to young children watching the skies over New York looking for another plane from “Bill Lawton”. At times, reading this book felt like searching a dark mine for diamonds but these glimpses of humanity were worth digging for.
DeLillo doesn’t seek to cover the enormity of the attacks (how could he?) but he convincingly puts a human heartbeat to the tragedy. Falling Man also offers glimpses of the irrational Islamophobia that swept through the city following the attacks. It’s not a heavy handed approach, in fact, he merely touches on the issues fleetingly but these moments are bitter and crucial reminders of the other victims of that day.
Clearly, this novel is a layered work, perhaps more convoluted and prevaricate than it needs to be. However, to see such a landmark moment fictionalised is fascinating and DeLillo rises to the challenge in a unique and exacting way.