In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Manhattan, many were looking to quintessential New York author Don DeLillo to take on the unenviable task of explaining to us what it all meant.
DeLillo’s stories have always dealt with the twin specters of terrorism and mass psychosis. It made perfect sense to want to search for deeper meanings lurking just under the surface of his latest novel.
To his credit, DeLillo didn’t exactly deliver what was expected of him. Instead of a myopic study of events on 9/11, Falling Man is a deeper exploration of loss in all its subtle and insidious forms.
When Lianne’s estranged husband Keith walks away from the collapse of the Twin Towers relatively unscathed and ends up on her doorstep, it is her volunteer work with elderly patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s that helps her maintain some sense of normalcy. The intimate description of the slow erosion of what has defined those few lives actually threatens to emotionally eclipse the larger tragedy for all its wide-screen horror.
That is until the novel’s final act, where DeLillo takes us inside a doomed plane and the resulting inferno to show us what those struggling to escape had to go through. DeLillo’s careful, claustrophobic depiction of the exodus from the north tower rivals Hampton Sides’ piece in Americana: Dispatches from the New Frontier for all its nightmarish immediacy.