Clear Views of Terror: DeLillo's 'Falling Man'

In his new novel, Falling Man, Don DeLillo, one of the most admired American writers, squarely faces the awful events of Sept. 11, 2001, with eyes wide open. DeLillo narrates the viewpoints of a number of people — including one of the hijackers — in prose both exquisite and exhausting.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

Don DeLillo is one of the most admired writers in America. His latest novel, "Falling Man," takes on the awful events of September 11th. DeLillo narrates from the viewpoints of a number of people, including one of the hijackers. It's a style he's developed in past works. Here's our reviewer, Alan Cheuse.

ALAN CHEUSE: It was not a street anymore but a world. A time and space of falling ash and near night, is how "Falling Man" opens. What follows are the stories of a survivor of the falling World Trade towers, a New Yorker named Keith from the Upper Westside, his estranged wife Lianne, his ex-poker partner Terry Cheng(ph) and Florence, another survivor, from across Central Park.

DeLillo renders these characters in prose exquisite in its depiction of psychological and physical horror, and demanding in its sometimes Zen-like pace. No one writing in American letters today does better than DeLillo at rendering altered states of mind, and this gift produces the vertiginous sensation that as we're reading, the very ground beneath us may be about to disappear.

The arch of the falling towers and falling lives shapes this novel whose disparate sequences might seem otherwise disjointed and damaged aspects of a world gone out of control. Toward the end of the story, as we move inevitably toward one of the most terrifying conclusions in recent American fiction - the attack on the towers from the point of view of one of the hijackers - we learn with Leanne that some New Yorkers are beginning to read the Quran in order to try and fathom the motive behind the attacks.

A doctor she knows recites to her the first line of the Muslim Holy Scripture. Quote, "this book is not to be doubted." Neither is this one, brilliant and all-producing at once, which of perhaps not a full blown masterpiece, will certainly give us plenty to live with for a long time.

ROBERTS: Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and is co-author of "Writers Workshop in a Book."

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.