Here we are. It’s March 2017 and I’m about to review the last novel I have to read for my MA. Was it an amazing experience about which I’ll write positively? Or a terrible reading experience that I will lambast?
Neither. I just don’t get it.
“Falling Man” by Don DeLillo is the story of a man called Keith Neudecker and how he survived the World Trade Centre Attacks of September 11th 2001. It has a non-linear narrative that follows both Keith and his estranged wife Lianne as well as one of the al-Qaeda terrorists who committed the attack, exploring the lead-up in the case of the latter and the fall-out in the case of the former.
For Keith, this involves temporarily reuniting with his wife while also beginning a relationship with a fellow survivor; for Lianne, coping with the dissolution of her Alzheimer’s support writing group. And at the same time, Lianne keeps catching sight of the Falling Man performance artist re-enacting the iconic photograph of a man falling head-first from the towers…
As a writer, I can hardly fault it. The characters are realistic and compelling, the language is beautiful and the way it expresses emotion is fantastic. If I had one complaint, it would be that in places, the dialogue is almost too realistic.
This may seem like a strange complaint, but think about conversations in real life. People get at cross-purposes or talk about two different things without actually responding to the other person and they don’t always flow from one person to another. In fiction, dialogue is generally a lot smoother and more consistent, and the lack of that made this a slightly strange reading experience.
As a reader, though, I really don’t know what to make of this.
Don’t get me wrong: intellectually, I know that the attack was a tragedy, that many people died, that it was a turning point for society to the point that we now say we live in a post-9/11 world and the trigger for wars, uprisings, political instability and eventual extremism across the world.
Yet I still don’t understand this book.
I turned ten years old in May of 2001. I lived and still live in the UK and had only flown abroad once in my entire life at that point. And I wasn’t a particularly worldly child or interested in the news at that time. On an emotional level, 9/11 doesn’t mean anything to me. I don’t remember how things were, so examining the way they changed to how they are now? It goes right over my head.
Americans and those old enough to really remember and understand 9/11 at the time that it happened will probably find this book more relatable and it might even help make sense of emotions they experienced at the time. The people in my shoes, though? You may find it easier to understand how others felt at the time – or, like me, you may just end up lost.
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