28 July, 2007

Book Report: "Falling Man" by Don DeLillo

When I was in the seventh grade, I saw a boy reading a book called "White Noise." He was new to our school- an eighth grader- and I found him intriguing in a brooding way that I described in my journal as "a cross between Beck and Trent Reznor." I knew I would never have the nerve to talk to him, but one thing was certain: I had to read that book.

I had never heard of Post Modernism but I devoured "White Noise" and everything else by Don DeLillo with a voracity I had previously reserved for the works of Victor Hugo (I was a strange kid, ok?). I loved the tense, clipped dialogue, and the juxtaposition of realistic characters and situations that verged on the absurd. For many years, "White Noise," was at the top of my list of favorite books.

It has now been quite some time since I picked up a copy of "White Noise," and I am curious to compare it to DeLillo's most recent publication, "Falling Man." Both deal with families living through disasters, and with terrorism (Hitler vs. Al Qaeda). And both are concise, unlike DeLillo's last tome, "Underworld." To be honest, it is hard for me to say whether I liked this book or not. Going into it I was skeptical about what is essentially Historical Fiction, written only a few years after the event in question (9/11). I expected it to be a bit selfish and cathartic on the author's part, and I am pleased to report that this was not the case.

As in most of his books, DeLillo employs the alternating narrative of different characters, and I thought these characters in particular were treated very gently. Their reactions to the fall of the towers and subsequent events felt organic, and unpretentious. But I think the book suffers in the inclusion of a character who is a member of Al Qaeda in the days leading up to the attack. Although well-written (of course), these sections felt a little phony and contrived because, well, how could any of us really understand that point of view?

In reality, the people who survived the attack are like soldiers who have seen combat: their experience can never really be comprehended by those of us who weren't there. So it's no surprise that this felt like books I've read about war veterans returning to civilian life, and the inevitable disconnect between them and their world, and I think DeLillo captured this impressively. Upon closing the book (I read it all in one sitting), I felt a hollowness as though I myself had lived through it all, as though there were questions unanswered that could never be satisfied, or even asked.

In conclusion, I still believe that America has not yet had enough distance from 9/11 to really process it into art or literature that is not emotional or biased. However, DeLillo has done a wonderful job of describing the event in a modest, quiet way, without exaggeration or theatricality.

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