My mother gave me Don DeLillo’s Falling Man for my birthday, saying, “I know how much you like him so when I saw he had a new book out I was excited to get it for you.” A curious statement, seeing as I had not read a single DeLillo novel. Her confusion no doubt stemmed from a recent conversation the two of us shared in which we discussed a now forgotten title (perhaps her beloved Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy) and she said, “It’s a contemporary classic like…. like…” “Like White Noise,” I said. Never read it, but it’s got that reputation. And so she came to think I was a big fan.
Falling Man is yet another entry into the ever-growing sub-genre of 9/11 fiction. Because it is written by a man who is widely considered one of the top four or five active American writers its release was something of a literary event. As I had no intention of reading Falling Man I have yet to look at a single review of the novel. I do not know whether the critical response has generally positive, but I do know that I did not particularly care for the book.
For a crisp plot summary we turn to Wikipedia (forgive me, I’m lazy): “Falling Man concerns a survivor of the 9/11 attacks and the effect his experiences on that day have on his life thereafter. As the novel opens, Keith Neudecker, a 39 year-old lawyer who works in the World Trade Center, escapes from the building injured slightly and walks to the apartment he previously shared with his son Justin and estranged wife Lianne. After a period of convalescence recuperating from the physical and mental trauma experienced in the attack, Keith resumes his domestic routine with Lianne while at the same time broaching a romantic relationship with a woman named Florence, another survivor, whose briefcase Keith absently took with him from a stairwell upon exiting the tower.”
Falling Man wants very much to be a small, personal story about a epic, international event, but for the most part I found it rather cold. I believe it would have made a excellent novella (I recall enjoying the excerpt from the novel that appeared in The New Yorker) but at 246 pages it carries a significant amount of excess baggage. Most unfortunate, I think, are the three small sections that jump outside of the lives of the central characters to follow a 9/11 hijacker from Afghanistan, to Florida, to the moment his plane strikes Keith’s building. These sections seemed sloppy and incomplete, an afterthought.
Falling Man does contain a few moments that took my breath away, such as when we discover that three children’s vexing new hobby of staring outside an apartment window with binoculars began so that they could monitor the skies for rogue airplanes. Also, the two descriptions of exiting the crumbling tower, one of Florence’s experience and one of Keith’s of the escape, are pretty stunning. But, yeah, until further I'm not a big fan.