So Don DeLillo … I have had a hard time with Don DeLillo for a while now. I’ve read Mao II several years ago and didn’t really get it and later I tried reading Underworld and I gave it up after 100 or more pages because I didn’t really care about it. But it still sits there on my shelf, mocking me. When I saw this book, I knew I had to have it and give DeLillo another chance. And I plan on trying to read Underworld again later this year so this book is kind of an attempt to summon up my courage for that.
So Falling Man is my re-introduction to Don DeLillo. And I must admit that after having thought about it for some days after finishing it, the main thing I feel is frustrated. This is one of those book where I read it and I keep feeling that there’s something more lurking in it, something lurking just out of the corner of my eye that I just can’t see and just doesn’t get. I feel like I don’t have the proper tools to grasp this novel, unfortunately.
Where Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is about a family who lost a loved one in the 9-11 attack, this family didn’t loose anyone. But they suffered the same loss as every New Yorker did that day – the loss of innocence, of feeling safe. When the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, Keith was in one of the towers. But he was one of the lucky ones, he managed to get out by walking slowly down the stairs in a line, together with other survivors. Keith got out and walked all the way through the city to his apartment, his old apartment where he used to live with his wife and child before they were separated.
But the 9-11 attack changed things and now Keith and his wife Lianne are trying to get back together, to make it work. But while walking out of the towers, Keith trapped a random suitcase and he decides to return it to it’s owner, Florence. Florence also survived the attack, walking down the stairs just like Keith did. And when Keith and Florence meet, they find that they can speak to each other about their experience in the towers. They meet and talk, they sit in together and eventually, things evolve between them. At least physically. So Keith is cheating on his wife while trying to get back together with her. Still, it’s clear that his relationship with Florence isn’t a real relationship, it’s a way of healing, of coming to terms with things together with someone who experienced it as well.
At the same time as I feel very frustrated with this novel, there are things in it that are truly amazing. I loved how the name Bill Lawson turns out to be a child’s mishearing of Bin Laden. I loved how he showed the kids sitting in their rooms, watching the skies for signs of more planes. Lianne’s group of people with Alzheimer’s, writing what they remember – wanting to remember the attack on the towers but forgetting against their will…
This is a novel about the impact of 9-11. About how it penetrated everything so that everywhere you look, you see the towers. You see the towers crumbling. And you don’t want to see that. The Falling Man is a performance artist who re-enacts a man falling from the towers over and over, all over New York. Lianne sees him once and as everyone else, she is shocked by this. He in some ways embodies the remembrance. Maybe because if you don’t remember history, you are doomed to repeat it? Or maybe because you have to face your fears before you can conquer them? Keith have to go back to the towers to be able to move forward.
The book begins right after the towers were hit. In the chaotic ash-covered streets of New York. And it ends inside the towers in a world where there’s only one thing to focus on – a staircase going down.
- Title: Falling Man
- Author: Don DeLillo
- Publisher: Picador
- Year: 2007
- Pages: 246 pages
- Source: Own Collection
- Stars: 3 stars out of 5
- Frank Rich: The Clear Blue Sky – review of Falling Man in The New York Times Book Review.