Monday, September 11, 2017

The Falling Man (2007)

Here is one of my BookLoons reviews from the past. Today is the right day to republish it.

Falling Man by Don order for
Falling Man
by Don DeLillo
Order:  USA  Can
Scribner, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

To say that September 11, 2001, has become a turning point or significant moment in history is already an unavoidable yet overworked cliché. Furthermore, to say that novelists throughout history frequently have engaged history's turning points or significant moments for purposes of catalyzing and enriching their novels is an obvious observation. Only occasionally, though, do those intersections of specific historical moments and fictional imagination go beyond topical social commentary and instead result in enduring literary excellence.

Now, at this moment in history in 2007 - looking back to the subject of September 11, 2001 - we have Falling Man, Don DeLillo's bold engagement with the singular turning point in modern American history. Using that date as his catalyst, DeLillo presents readers with characters (much like readers themselves) who must somehow make sense of their lives and their surroundings in the time after (and before) the moments when two airplanes were flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. A man who has been estranged from his wife suddenly finds himself searching (and gambling throughout his search) for meaning; the estranged wife, fretting over her fluctuating roles when she finds herself caught in the midst of generational demands, grapples for her own identity within a world suddenly gone quite chaotic; children - in one of DeLillo's most remarkable presentations - turn their experiences and their limited awareness and understanding into innocent games; and - in DeLillo's most daring presentation - a few passionately and divinely motivated Islamic terrorists test the depths and limits of their commitment to Allah.

Taking his title from the briefly seen iconic photograph of 9/11 (and from the subsequently and too frequently seen performance artist who mimicked the plight of the falling man), Don DeLillo has attempted (and, I would argue, he has succeeded in writing) the seminal novel about this young and frightened century's turning point.

However, I would submit to you that this is not typical DeLillo writing, and readers looking for another UnderworldWhite Noise, or Libra will not readily see DeLillo's wry (and often scathing) satire of contemporary society; in fact, Falling Mansometimes reads more like an elegy for lost innocence, a commentary on resilience, and an ode to fractured isolation. Notwithstanding (or perhaps because of) those qualities, Falling Man is a fine (perhaps even great) novel, but time (and repeat readings) will tell if Falling Man will go beyond its immediate and obvious status as topical social commentary and become instead excellent and enduring literature.

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  1. Great review Tim. I have been meaning to read DeLillo for awhile. I have yet to read anything by hime. When I do, I will likely start with something more typical of his writing.

    1. Brian, my favorite by De Lillo is White Noise.

  2. i've heard of him, but that's it... not too interested in modern authors: they doan rite to gud... this is undoubtedly prejudice on my part, but at my age, what else have i got... tx for the post, anyway...