Select one of the keywords
Falling Man    by Don DeLillo 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 Underworld, White Noise, or Libra will not readily see DeLillo's wry (and often scathing) satire of contemporary society; in fact, Falling Man sometimes 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.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Contemporary books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews