The US has undoubtedly seen its fair share of tragedy but nothing in recent memory has done more to change the face of America than the horrific events of September 11. Several years after this date, its safe to say that the US is still dealing with its repercussions. Given the immensity of such event it is no wonder that recent literature has had to deal with it. One notable example would be Sorrows of An American by Siri Hustvedt and a notable other is Don Delillo’s Falling Man which tackles the aftermath of the tragedy through the lives of a dysfunctional family.
The novel opens with the day itself. A man is covered in blood and ashes and the whole world seems remade in smoke and fire. The story goes on to trace the aftermath of this event in the lives of Keith, his estranged wife Lianne and Nina, Lianne’s mother. They deal with 9/11 in their own different ways. Keith goes on to reconcile with Lianne yet embarks on an affair with a fellow survivor. Lianne is bothered by all the Islamic references that are seemingly everywhere and even confronts a neighbor over the playing of Middle Eastern music. Nina breaks up with her old lover whom she fears was once connected to a terrorist group.
Delillo has always been renowned for prose that has proven to be prescient. Readers won’t help but remember his much earlier novel Players published over 24 years ago which described the twin towers as temporary presences in the landscape. How unfortunate that this has proven to be true. Falling Man is written in a prose that is spare and measured. There is no excessive hysteria, just steady measured writing that somehow captures more tellingly the scope of the human tragedy and the changes it brings about. The subject being so potentially incendiary, Delillo’s writing ensures that the story doesn’t descend to melodrama or pander towards prurient interest. The wreckage of the towers is something indelibly carved into our collective modern consciousness regardless of which side of the fence we are sitting on. And while the characters struggle to rebuild their lives, they are aware, as are we, the readers that things cannot be and are in fact, no longer the same. The idea of home and safety is forever changed and we all must live with it.