three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
28-May-June-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-Falling ManOn September 11, 2001, Keith Neudecker walks away from the crumbling World Trade Center and goes directly to his estranged wife Lianne’s home. The two forge an uneasy, dazed truce: Keith continues the philandering that tore them apart; Lianne remains paralyzed by anxiety—about her mother, about her genes, and about her devastated city. Through his binoculars, their son Justin scans the skies for airplanes and a mysterious man named Bill Lawton. Meanwhile a performance artist named "Falling Man" appears around Manhattan, dangling in the sky by invisible guide wires, in chilling homage to the now-infamous image of a man tumbling from the World Trade Center.
Scribner. 246 pages. $26. ISBN: 1416546022

Boston Globe 5 of 5 Stars
"Like the sculptor who decides upon which 95 percent to omit, DeLillo has created a tableau of specificity and poetic anguish, all of it bearing the themes that have dominated his fiction over the years: the play of art and memory, the miracles and limits of language, the meaning of things trumping the things themselves." Gail Caldwell

Chicago Tribune 4.5 of 5 Stars
"At its best [the novel] creates the vertiginous sensation that the very ground beneath us—or the ledge we’re standing on—may be about to disappear, sending us plunging into a world from which the bottom has fallen out. … [It is] brilliant and awe-producing, incredibly close to a full-blown masterpiece and giving us plenty to ponder for a long time." Alan Cheuse

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"A gripping, haunting ensemble piece, much less about the public, historical event than about its psychological radiation through the lives of a single New York City family. It is DeLillo at his most bare-bones, asking, ‘How do we now live?’" Sven Birkerts

New York Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Instead of capturing the impact of 9/11 on the country or New York or a spectrum of survivors or even a couple of interesting individuals, instead of illuminating the zeitgeist in which 9/11 occurred or the shell-shocked world it left in its wake, Mr. DeLillo leaves us with two paltry images: one of a performance artist re-enacting the fall of bodies from the burning World Trade Center, and one of a self-absorbed man, who came through the fire and ash of that day and decided to spend his foreseeable future playing stupid card games in the Nevada desert." Michiko Kakutani

Newsday 1 of 5 Stars
"It brings it back, of course, those stark moments in the burning towers when people fell or were forced to jump, but that is not a good book. It is a spectacle, a book that dangles itself in front of us, offering nothing but our own outrage to support its puppetry of human desperation." Daniel Handler

Washington Post 1 of 5 Stars
"None of the characters ever emerges from cardboard wrapping, and none of the emotions DeLillo tries to arouse feels earned. He’s letting the shock of Sept. 11 do his work for him, supplying the passions that his own surprisingly limp and lifeless prose cannot." Jonathan Yardley

Critical Summary

New York native Don DeLillo confronts his city’s most horrendous tragedy. Those expecting the interwoven subterfuge and bravado sentence making of Underworld or White Noise might be disappointed. This is a stark, intensely personal story that provokes some equally impassioned—and sharply divided—responses. From the reviews, it is clear that the novel is either the best 9/11 book yet written, or a complete failure. Those championing the latter view claim that other firsthand accounts of the tragedy far overmatch the novel. But the book’s supporters find that DeLillo’s restrained prose and close focus are the perfect lenses through which to view the tragedy. Six years later, it’s still hard to discern whether critics’ responses have more to do with the event than the book at hand.