Falling Man by Don DeLillo

He stood and felt something so lonely he could touch it with his hands.

Don DeLillo is one of my favorite postmodern writers. He portrays modern-day America in a way that makes me question our priorities and culture. He plays with themes of consumerism, mass media, interconnectedness and the human ability to create meaningful relationships. Falling Man explores post-9/11 New York. The title refers to the image of a man who fell from the twin towers (an image that is also used in Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close). In DeLillo's novel we see a performance artist who mimics this pose as he dangles from a harness around areas throughout Manhattan. Of course the image of the falling man gives those who see it a feeling of unspeakable dread:
There were people shouting up at him, outraged at the spectacle, the puppetry of human desperation, a body's last fleet breath and what it held. It held the gaze of the world, she thought. There was an awful openness of it, something we'd not seen, the single falling figure that trails a collective dread, body come down among us all.
As this image repeatedly inserts itself into the lives of New Yorkers, the novel follows two narratives; one of a family who is trying to rebuild their lives after the attack and one of a 9/11 terrorist who prepares for the attacks. The post-traumatic recovery of this family is almost as heartbreaking as a glimpse into the life of a terrorist. The family struggles to make sense of their new world just as they struggle to understand one another.
But then she might be wrong about what was ordinary. Maybe nothing was. Maybe there was a deep fold in the grain of things, the way things pass through the mind, the way time swings in the mind, which is the only place it meaningfully exists.
DeLillo's poignant novel implies that we will continuously have to recover from the attacks as they will haunt us forever. Just as the falling man's image will continue to resurface, so will the memory of the atacks. However, rather than focus on the attacks themselves, DeLillo explores how they changed America and the daily lives of Americans. He draws significant comparisons to the "before" world that we knew to the "after". Just as 9/11 itself was chaotic, so were the lives of many American's after that day and for years to come. People struggled to understand the event and then struggled to understand themselves.
I don't know this American anymore. I don't recognize it. There's an empty space where America used to be.
DeLillo builds many layers into this story which makes it seem disjointed and fragmented. I think this structure serves to reinforce the emotions and understanding of the attacks and it's aftermath: haunting, confusing and utterly heartbreaking.

Publisher: Scribner, 2007


  1. I'm adding this to my TBR with a little bit of trepidation...the adjectives "haunting, confusing and heartbreaking" make me nervous...but in a good way ;)

  2. Peppermint, I understand your trepidation, but I think it's worth it.

  3. This sounds like a really important and groundbreaking book. I'm definitely going to try to read this one soon and hopefully some more of DeLillo's work - your description of all his work, and this one in particular, sounds like the kind of thing I would love to read more of.

  4. If you hadn't reviewed this one, I might have hovered over it and read everything else by DeLillo before. I was scared it was going to be another one of those "THE PLANE WILL HIT, YOU JUST DON'T KNOW WHEN" type of book. The way you present things make me hopeful.

  5. Laura, I would start with White Noise.

    Ben, It's definitely not that kind of book. The first chapter opens with 9/11 - the rest of the book is the aftermath.

  6. Great book. For me, DeLillo is about the only post-modern writer I can stand. Have you read Mao II? Definitely worth a go if you haven't.

  7. I've not read DeLillo (yet), but I've heard good things about him. What would you recommend as a good starting point? I know he's written a fair bit...
    (Fun fact: last summer I worked with the literary agency that represents him over here.)

  8. This sounds like a really interesting/heartbreaking novel. I've seen the title everytime I've gone to the book store, but have decided against it in favor of more positive subject matter. I've never read DeLillo. I can't say I'll be able to read it anytime soon, but certainly in the future.

  9. I've sadly never heard of DeLillo, but it sounds like a beautiful book. I'll have to check it out!

  10. I guess I have to disagree. This book, for me, was one of his worst efforts. I thought it was sentimental and predictable. But what the hell do I know?

  11. Tom, I have not. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Emily, White Noise! Start with White Noise. Also, that's really cool you worked at the lit agency that represents him. I would die for that job.

    Beth, It's hit or miss with DeLillo. Read him when you're ready.

    eatthebooks, I hope you do.

    Kenneth, I didn't find it predictable, but I suppose I can see how you did. I haven't read a TON of DeLillo. What is your favorite of his?

  12. I am a big fan of White Noise. And his newest book, Point Omega, really had me pondering what the hell it meant for several weeks. I read Underworld in college and I remember liking it. But there have been lots of drugs and plenty of booze under the bridge since then.