Life, and Art, at Ground Zero ; Falling Man by Don DeLillo PICADOR [Pound]12.99 (246Pp)
Homberger, Eric, The Independent (London, England)
The sprawling Dickensian story of 11 September 2001, with its grieving families, heroic firemen, "terror sex" (one-night stands in the aftermath), rampant patriotism, solemn mourning rituals and the growing sense of exasperation and boredom with the whole subject, has novelists queueing up. It is the kind of big subject Americans once claimed as their literary birthright - a journey down the Mississippi, the hunting of a whale, or a trek by landless farmers to California. Other than in Don DeLillo's Underworld a decade ago, American writers have backed off such grand national themes. Finely- chiselled novellas like Philip Roth's Everyman and DeLillo's The Body Artist have serious aims, but the scale is small, and the focus, as DeLillo suggests of a character in Falling Man, is "privileged, detached, self-involved white".
Among the dozen or so 9/11 novels so far, the destruction of the World Trade Center is an offstage event in a disintegrating marriage, with interior design by Infidelity & Rage (Jay McInerney's The Good Life and Ken Kalfus's A Disorder Peculiar to the Country), or a late and essentially mechanical resolution of the multiple ironies of urban life (Paul Auster's The Brooklyn Follies and Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children). They all address the near- universal belief that things will never be the same again with a worldly negative. Marriages go on, as do careers, infidelity, baby- sitting, and ambition.
It was ethnographers and sociologists who were the among the first to hold up a mirror to the city and its trauma, in rich novelistic detail. A Russell Sage Foundation research project into the impact of the attacks, led by historian Nancy Foner and others, was published in 2005 as Wounded City: The Social Impact of 9/11. Foner's researchers describe the largely autonomous worlds of bond traders, garment workers, taxi drivers, and firefighters living in the Rockaways. For many New Yorkers, the events strengthened community bonds. The researchers have other stories to tell, of fraying boundaries, political fragmentation, and the failure of social networks when confronted by a traumatic event.
Novelists today help us to understand a narrower, but more intense fragment of experience. In an essay published in December 2001, DeLillo briefly listed the detritus of the day, with "The paper that came streaming out of the towers and drifted across the river to Brooklyn backyards, status reports, resumes, insurance forms." For DeLillo, 9/11 has the capacity to serve as a monstrous metaphor for our civilisation.
Keith Neudecker, the central male character of his new novel Falling Man, emerges bloodied by fragments of glass out of the ash and rubble of the World Trade Center. He is one of the heroic survivors who is no hero, and who cannot find words to express what he has seen. He finds his way to the apartment of his estranged wife Lianne, and their son. It is an unforgettable opening scene. For a time Keith and Lianne try to mend their broken relationship, and he once again seeks to be a father to their son Justin.
But there are things now which he cannot share with his wife, or communicate with anyone except, briefly, with an African-American woman, also a survivor, named Florence Givens. He had picked up her briefcase by accident on the staircase …
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Publication information: Article title: Life, and Art, at Ground Zero ; Falling Man by Don DeLillo PICADOR [Pound]12.99 (246Pp). Contributors: Homberger, Eric - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: May 18, 2007. Page number: Not available. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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