Saturday, 11 April 2009

Falling Man - Don Delillo

Read: April 2007

Falling Man opens amidst the chaos of 9/11 as Keith Neudecker stumbles dumbstruck away from the Twin Towers. He is in a daze, can barely comprehend that anything is out of the usual. He makes his way to his ex-wife’s house, to a life he knew before any of this happened. The novel follows Keith and the people around him as they struggle to understand an event that is beyond anyone’s power of comprehension.

Keith’s wife, Lianne, is still reeling from the death of her father almost twenty years before. Now she runs writing sessions for those with dementia and worries that her own mind is fading. Their child, Justin, searches the sky with binoculars for Bill Lawton (Bin Laden) who speaks in a monosyllabic language and is certain to return. Lianne’s mother and her art dealing lover Martin argue over the nature of God and jihad. And Keith himself can only begin to remember that crazy morning by meeting with a woman who was there as well.

All the while a street performer named Falling Man is performing stunts across New York, leaping from heights and hanging, frozen in the air, daring people to remember.

This is the world Don Delillo presents, a world which started long before 9/11 but whose consciousness was created in that fateful morning. If anyone should write a book about this subject then this is the man. With White Noise he expertly tackled the Cold War fear of nuclear fallout and death and now here he is tackling the modern paranoia: terrorism. He is a master of plotting the psyche of terror and this is every bit as good as White Noise. Falling Man is exactly what you wish for in a book, intelligent, witty and intensely poignant. Take this dialogue, could anyone else delineate that disbelief better?

“He said, “It still looks like an accident, the first one. Even from this distance, way outside the thing, how many days later, I’m standing here thinking it’s an accident.”
“Because it has to be.”
“It has to be,” he said.
“The way the camera sort of shows surprise.”
“But only the first one.”
“Only the first,” she said.
“The second plane, by the time the second plane appears,” he said, “we’re all a little older and wiser.”

Falling Man is caught in the crossfire between remembering and forgetting, it is a hazy, snapshot view of the lives that 9/11 shaped. It is written in a distorted, confused manner, with shifts in character and plot and time. This makes it difficult to follow, hard to understand, but then, nothing about the subject is easy. There are those with dementia who can’t help forgetting and the rest of the people who can’t help remembering, those stumbling out of the grey dust of 9/11 and those who are inevitably falling into the grey mist of memory loss.

This is the mirage into which Delillo watches everything merge into uncertainty. The Twin Towers emerge from a still life painting, Keith struggles to tell what is live action and what is a replay in the sport on TV, religious belief leads to disbelief and vice versa, and Keith enters the world of professional Poker playing, desperate to recreate the Friday night game he enjoyed with friends before all of this happened.

You must read this book. Don Delillo has mapped the psychological fallout of 9/11 more superbly than I imagined possible.

7.5 out of 10

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