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Falling Man: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 15, 2007

3.4 out of 5 stars 134 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The defining moment of turn-of-the-21st-century America is perfectly portrayed in National Book Award winner Don DeLillo's Falling Man. The book takes its title from the electrifying photograph of the man who jumped or fell from the North Tower on 9/11. It also refers to a performance artist who recreates the picture. The artist straps himself into a harness and in high visibility areas jumps from an elevated structure, such as a railway overpass or a balcony, startling passersby as he hangs in the horrifying pose of the falling man.

Keith Neudecker, a lawyer and survivor of the attack, arrives on his estranged wife Lianne's doorstep, covered with soot and blood, carrying someone else's briefcase. In the days and weeks that follow, moments of connection alternate with complete withdrawl from his wife and young son, Justin. He begins a desultory affair with the owner of the briefcase based only on their shared experience of surviving: "the timeless drift of the long spiral down." Justin uses his binoculars to scan the skies with his friends, looking for "Bill Lawton" (a misunderstood version of bin Laden) and more killing planes. Lianne suddenly sees Islam everywhere: in a postcard from a friend, in a neighbor's music--and is frightened and angered by its ubiquity. She is riveted by the Falling Man. Her mother Nina's response is to break up with her long-time German lover over his ancient politics. In short, the old ways and days are gone forever; a new reality has taken over everyone's consciousness. This new way is being tried on, and it doesn't fit. Keith and Lianne weave into reconciliation. Keith becomes a professional poker player and, when questioned by Lianne about the future of this enterprise, he thinks: "There was one final thing, too self-evident to need saying. She wanted to be safe in the world and he did not."

DeLillo also tells the story of Hammad, one of the young men in flight training on the Gulf Coast, who says: "We are willing to die, they are not. This is our srength, to love death, to feel the claim of armed martyrdom." He also asks: "But does a man have to kill himself in order to accomplish something in the world?" His answer is that he is one of the hijackers on the plane that strikes the North Tower.

At the end of the book, De Lillo takes the reader into the Tower as the plane strikes the building. Through all the terror, fire and smoke, De Lillo's voice is steady as a metronome, recounting exactly what happens to Keith as he sees friends and co-workers maimed and dead, navigates the stairs and, ultimately, is saved. Though several post-9/11 novels have been written, not one of them is as compellingly true, faultlessly conceived, and beautifully written as Don De Lillo's Falling Man. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. When DeLillo's novel Players was published in 1977, one of the main characters, Pammy, worked in the newly built World Trade Center. She felt that "the towers didn't seem permanent. They remained concepts, no less transient for all their bulk than some routine distortion of light." DeLillo's new novel begins 24 years later, with Keith Neudecker standing in a New York City street covered with dust, glass shards and blood, holding somebody else's briefcase, while that intimation of the building's mortality is realized in a sickening roar behind him. On that day, Keith, one half of a classic DeLillo well-educated married couple, returns to Lianne, from whom he'd separated, and to their young son, Justin. Keith and Lianne know it is Keith's Lazarus moment, although DeLillo reserves the bravura sequence that describes Keith's escape from the first tower—as well as the last moments of one of the hijackers, Hammad—until the end of the novel. Reconciliation for Keith and Lianne occurs in a sort of stunned unconsciousness; the two hardly engage in the teasing, ludic interchanges common to couples in other DeLillo novels. Lianne goes through a paranoid period of rage against everything Mideastern; Keith is drawn to another survivor. Lianne's mother, Nina, roils her 20-year affair with Martin, a German leftist; Keith unhooks from his law practice to become a professional poker player. Justin participates in a child's game involving binoculars, plane spotting and waiting for a man named "Bill Lawton." DeLillo's last novel, Cosmopolis, was a disappointment, all attitude (DeLillo is always a brilliant stager of attitude) and no heart. This novel is a return to DeLillo's best work. No other writer could encompass 9/11 quite like DeLillo does here, down to the interludes following Hammad as he listens to a man who "was very genius"—Mohammed Atta. The writing has the intricacy and purpose of a wiring diagram. The mores of the after-the-event are represented with no cuteness—save, perhaps, the falling man performance artist. It is as if Players, The Names, Libra, White Noise, Underworld—with their toxic events, secret histories, moral panics—converge, in that day's narrative of systematic vulnerability, scatter and tentative regrouping. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (May 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416546022
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416546023
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #526,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book very much, having enjoyed some of Don DeLillo's other novels. A couple things to know about this book:

1. This is not mainstream fiction. DeLillo uses his own conventions and the conventions of postmodern fiction to great extent.

2. This novel is not primarily a retelling of the events of 9/11. Rather, it is an exploration of the mindset of New Yorkers (and one European) after 9/11, how this particular watershed event changed people's worldview.

3. This is not a political work. It does not seek to espouse any political point of view.

That being said, I very much liked this book. I found it very chilling at some points, and difficult to read. I found myself dealing with emotions I had not felt since the days just after 9/11 (deftly referred to in the novel as 'since the planes'), and an exploration much different from the film United 93.

I did feel some of the characters were hollow, but that is kind of typical of DeLillo's storytelling style. Characters in DeLillo works tend to be people to whom things happen, reactors as opposed to actors. I felt that this helped enhance the feelings of some of the characters in this work, accentuating the helplessness and fear I know I certainly felt in the wake of 9/11.

While the book does deal directly with the events of 9/11 (those were some of the most emotionally difficult to read), it is primarily an exploration of the 'post-9/11' world. In this, I feel it succeeds, and is a brilliant work.
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Format: Hardcover
There exists an event in each of our pasts that haunts all of our potential futures. "Falling Man" explores one such event that we are all connected to, some directly (like those in the Towers or in NYC or DC or in an airport, etc.) and others who experienced it on television, in the papers, on the radio. We all have individual memories of what happened, where we were, how it affected us. Yet we continually share the experience repetitively through a collective memory comprised of images on TV, photographs of the planes striking the towers, overheard conversations in restaurants or subways, images of the pristine towers in a longshot from an older movie or television program, etc. In some ways the events of 9/11 define us as individuals and in some ways the events define us all.

This book made me think about myself in ways that few books do. I didn't so much imagine "walking in the shoes" of the characters so much as I thoughtfully considered their actions and reactions in search of some understanding, or empathy. Actions and behaviors that would otherwise appear selfish, Delillo exposes as superficial manifestations of penetrating emotional wounds. It is not always our actions that define who we "are," but rather the events in our lives that shape the consciousness and identity from which our actions result. In "Falling Man", Lianne is not obsessed with the degradation of her own memories (or potential onset of Alzheimer's) as one could conclude. Instead, Delillo gives us the opportunity to see Lianne as a woman traumatized by her father's suicide, which had been prompted by a seemingly rapid onset of Alzheimer's while Lianne was in college.
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Format: Paperback
I couldn't pick this up when it first came out. I listened to it recently on CD during a long drive and with each mile, I felt the growing weight and gravity, lived with the men and women grappling with the aftermath, after the planes. There is a phrase in "Falling Man" that covers lots of ground about what this book is about: "beyond the limits of safe understanding." I think that's what DeLillo challenged himself to do, to understand beyond where we normally search for comprehension about our world.

The tone here is dispassionate, almost like a list of details. I heard echoes of Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," that same gripping weight. The word "ash" comes back over and over and that's what we were all coated with, the emotional ash, the "organic shrapnel" that might not at first be visible, that might take its toll slowly, over time. The mattress scene in "Falling Man" is a brilliant, along with the recurring performance artist, the gambling and the odd emotional connections forged and forced by the devastation of the attack.

"Falling Man" starts shortly after the attack and ends up just before the attack, a haunting choice, taking us back to the beginning, to try and imagine how "God's name" could be on the "tongues of killers." Read "Falling Man" when you want to try and push the limits of your own understanding and/or you don't want to forget, for whatever reason.
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Format: Hardcover
This novel is a rather halting and not very satisfying attempt to capture the impact of 9/11 on immediate survivors and their families. Keith Neudecker, a lawyer on an upper floor of the first tower, covered in soot and blood inexplicably finds his way to his estranged wife Lianne's door. Whatever their differences, apparently grateful for his survival, all seems to be forgiven as Keith is allowed to recover at his own pace with no demands placed. Their precocious yet reticent son Justin is engaged in a never understood game with the Siblings, brother and sister neighbors, looking for Bill Lawton, aka Bin Laden. In addition, Lianne makes regular treks to her art professor mother Nina's apartment where she also engages with her mother's secretive art collector lover Martin.

The book consists of rapidly shifting, mostly short, disconnected scenarios involving these characters. The book in essence mirrors the disorientation undoubtedly felt by those who endured the 9/11 catastrophe. Whether intentional or not, the characters exhibit limited emotional range, unable to fully engage with life. One exception is the intimate connection that Keith makes with fellow survivor Florence when he returns her briefcase, which inadvertently wound up in his hands as he stumbled down the stairs of the tower, a week later, though he had not known her pre 9/11. The device of interspersing a "falling man," mimicking those who were forced to jump from the towers, jumping from structures in full public view with a concealed harness to stop his fall is unnecessary.

Overall the book, the story, and the characters are lacking in capturing post 9/11 life. Keith becomes ever more detached as he winds up living a reduced life playing five-card stud in Las Vegas with the pretence of maintaining a relationship with his wife and son. Given the backdrop of 9/11, the expectation is for a fuller, more meaningful account. As it is, life is excessively bleak in the author's post 9/11 world.
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