“Falling Man” by Don DeLillo ★★★★1/2


Falling Man full picture of cover photo by Katie Weisberger

Photo credit:  Katie Weisberger, Nikon 35mm


Sensitive and thoughtful fictional account of how several individuals survived and processed the events of 9/11 and its aftermath.

He said, “It still looks like an accident, the first one.  Even from this distance, way outside the thing, how many days later, I’m standing here thinking it’s an accident.”

“Because it has to be.”

“The second plane, by the time the second plane appears,” he said, “we’re all a little older and wiser.”

The author imagines scenes inside the towers and one of the planes, as well as the beliefs and thoughts inside the minds of not only the various survivors inside and outside the towers–including children and how they deal with their fears, elderly Alzheimer patients who share their thoughts through a writing class, and a German art dealer who alternately lives in NYC and various locations around Europe and serves as the voice of those who witness America from the outside. The author also peeks inside the mind of one of the hijackers as he recalls his initial jihad training in Afghanistan and the temptations of “normal” life in Germany and Florida as the attacks are being planned.

The central figure is Keith Neudecker, a successful lawyer who works in the North Tower, but struggles as a husband and father. We first meet him as he is walking out of the Tower covered in ash and someone else’s blood, carrying a briefcase he picked up somewhere along the way, stunned and knowing only to head in the direction of his estranged family. As we watch his physical and (partial) emotional recovery after losing two of his best friends, we learn more about him and what he went through in increments; and although he continues to evidence a weak character, the reader can only wish for him to find some sort of peace in whatever way works for him.

The title “Falling Man” references the author’s creation of a performance artist who ties himself to structures and at precise moments recreates the falling pose which anyone can assume is in homage to the doomed gentleman caught in the tragic and otherworldly photo taken by Richard Drew of one of the victims (possibly Jonathan Briley, an audio engineer for Windows on the World) falling from the North Tower. Part of the story centers around the purpose behind this form of performance art and whether or not the artist would be considered a “brave new chronicler of this Age of Terror” or simply insensitive.

“Nothing seems exaggerated anymore.  Nothing amazes me,” he said.

This story encompasses some of the ways humans deal with tragedy, grief, a need for connection, and their belief (or unbelief) in God. The title could easily be changed to “The Frailty of Man” referencing both our corporeal bodies and emotional selves. Although these particular characters are fictional, their story still brought a tear to my eye.

Falling Man by Don DeLillo

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