Wednesday, September 5, 2007

In Honor of an Anniversary...

As the anniversary of September 11th approaches, I felt it would be appropriate to discuss one of the years best novels, "Falling Man" by Don Delillo. Falling Man is a look into the lives of the survivors of the attacks on that day; a very personal and sorrowful look at what the attacks on our country did to the minds and souls of the people who felt the heat from the fires and the earth trembling under their feet. The novel is disjointed and fragmented, each of the characters attempting to put the pieces of their lives back together but not knowing quite exactly how.

The novel follows Keith Neudecker, a man who was working in the towers when they were struck, as he finds himself on his ex-wife's doorstep on that morning broken and bloody, covered in ash, and not knowing how he got there. Each character, from Keith, his wife, his son, and the people around them all try to find in themselves the world that existed before the attacks; but find only a changed world filled with fear, paranoia and constant vigilance on the skies above. Keith's wife, Lianne, seeks solace in a group of Alzheimer patients she helps out each week, listening to them pour their thoughts and emotions onto paper before they are forgotten forever. Keith, trying to find a connection to someone or something familiar, begins an affair with a woman who also survived the attacks, seeking the familiarity and commiseration of the shared experience, while also attempting to reconcile with his estranged wife. Ultimately, Kieth begins a career as a professional poker player, cherishing the instability and feeling of recklessness that world provided him.

Simultaneously, the novel flashes to scenes with Hammad, a young Islamic man who ultimately turns out to be one of the hijackers. The world Hammad lives in is not viewed sympathetically, only realistically as Hammad and his co-conspirators plan and train for their attack. The young men listen to and follow the fanatical teachings of their leader, who decisively pulls his recruits deeper and deeper into the suicidal mindset of the separatist sect. Ultimately, Hammad finds himself on the airplane as it strikes the North Tower, forcing his story to join the story of Kieth Neudecker, who fights through fire, rubble and smoke, watching his coworkers crushed by building debris, to find himself alive outside the burning tower.

Falling Man, which gets it's name from the famous photograph taken of the man falling from the tower, and the performance artist who mimicked that photo afterward and who appears several times in the novel, is so superbly crafted that it will go on the top of my list of favorite books this year. Delillo has managed to create a world in which it is not Us versus Them, but just us, trying to survive, trying to cope and trying to find a way to understand the world again.