Falling Man, Don DeLillo, Scribner, 2007, 246 pp
For a long time, I could not bring myself to read any novel concerning 9/11. Even though I realize that it's what writers do (write about what goes on in the world) I felt a squeamish repugnance to the idea of turning that event into fiction. I broke through this objection when I read Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a book I truly admired.
I've never read Don DeLillo before and to his credit, he waited a full six years before publishing his 9/11 novel. According to what I gather about his earlier novels, he is a writer who was destined to write such a book. But you know what? I thought I was basically over the whole disturbing gory thing and that I had "moved on" to bemoaning our government's inept response. Well, I wasn't over it.
Falling Man put me right back there, watching those images over and over on TV and feeling the shock and awe which the terrorists clearly wanted Americans to feel. A man walks out of the first tower, covered in ash, wounded and disoriented. He keeps walking until he reaches the apartment of his wife and son, from whom he had separated some time earlier.
For the rest of the story this man, who of course was not in good shape beforehand, tries to find his way in his life. So does his wife, his son, his mother-in-law and various friends of his. None of them really do. The reactions of these people rang true to me. I realized that because I was not there in New York and in fact knew no one personally who suffered or died, I was detached. Possibly a huge percentage of Americans were also detached. As horrific as the TV news and images were, we are so inured to violence, destruction and war as delivered to us by the media, that it all seemed a bit unreal.
DeLillo has made it very real through these individual characters and their extremely personal feeling and thoughts and actions. Ultimately for these characters, a huge disconnection with their fellow man resulted. Some try to connect again, some give up and simply become more weird than they already were.
When I finished I was glad to be out of the story. It doesn't actually have a climax; it just ends. But now the story was in me and I was so thankful that I had a reading group to go to, to discuss, to get it out of my system, to process some of my emotion, to connect.