I’ll admit that I haven’t sought out novels or films regarding September 11th. Perhaps, because the fallout of that day was everywhere. It flashed on televisions, it stuck to the tailgates of trucks in magnetized ribbons of grief and patriotism, it was the pulse of George W. Bush’s presidency and a phrase he repeated for over seven years.
When I picked up Falling Man, it was for two reasons. First, I hadn’t read anything yet by Don Delillo, and second, I’d heard great things about this book. Great writer, great book, sometimes it doesn’t matter what the subject matter is.
In some ways, this is a very simple novel. It revolves around two characters, Keith and Lianne, who were separated before the attacks, but then come together after Keith survives the first plane hitting the tower. Dusty, disoriented, he comes back to their old apartment, even though he no longer lives there. Their lives are forever changed, and the anger, grief, outrage, and disorientation manifest in small ways. Keith bonds with another survivor. Lianne lashes out at a neighbor. They become lost inside themselves. Those few lines don’t really do the novel justice. Among the cast of characters are Keith and Lianne’s son, who scans the skies with his friends looking for another plane. Lianne’s mother and her mother’s off and on partner, who can’t help but try to understand the terrorists. Lastly, there is the Falling Man, a performance artist who hangs from a cable at random spots around the city, dressed in a suit as though he worked in the towers, head down, arms drawn in, one leg bent in a frozen plummet.
This novel is more like a meditation. It is elegiac. You feel the grief, the sorrow. The details and sentences Delillo uses are wonderful. Sparse at times, and then blossoming. It captures the mood of the time, and allows us to experience something familiar to all Americans living through those days, but unique in the shape of that experience in Keith and Lianne’s life.
If you read one novel about September 11th, this is the one to read.