Falling Man (novel)
Cover to the first edition
|Media type||Print (Hardback)|
|Pages||256 (Hardback first edition)|
|LC Classification||PS3554.E4425 F36 2007|
Plot summary 
Falling Man concerns a survivor of the 9/11 attacks and the effect his experiences on that day have on his life thereafter. As the novel opens, Keith Neudecker, a 39-year-old lawyer who works in the World Trade Center, escapes from the building injured slightly and walks to the apartment he previously shared with his son Justin and estranged wife Lianne. After a period of convalescence recuperating from the physical and mental trauma experienced in the attack, Keith resumes his domestic routine with Lianne while at the same time broaching a romantic relationship with a woman named Florence, another survivor, whose briefcase Keith absently took with him from a stairwell upon exiting the tower. Lianne meanwhile grows frustrated with a neighbor in her building who loudly plays middle-eastern sounding music, witnesses the dissolution of a writing group she ran for Alzheimer's patients, and spends time with her elderly intellectual mother Nina and her boyfriend Martin (an art dealer who was involved in Kommune 1 in Germany during the 1970s). In the second half of the novel, Keith eventually abdicates his partially resumed domestic life and begins touring the world playing in professional poker tournaments full-time, recalling his weekly poker nights with co-workers, one of whose deaths he witnessed on 9/11.
Throughout the book, Lianne sees a performance artist dubbed "Falling Man" in various parts of the city. Wearing business attire, he suspends himself upside-down with rope and a harness in the pose of the man in the famous photograph of the same name by Richard Drew.
Themes and criticism 
Like DeLillo's previous works, this novel is thematically concerned with the symbolic nature of terrorist violence portrayed through the mass media. In addition, Delillo's narrative examines the possibilities of reinventing individual identity as well as the tendency of individuals to construct their identities through a group mentality.
Main characters 
Keith: Keith is a victim of the collapse of the towers but he survived. He is unable to try to explain the catastrophe going on around him. In general, Keith does not attempt to come to terms with his experience. He meets four or five times with Florence Givens, whose briefcase he saved on his escape, but they get lost in details and have sex to escape themselves with someone who understands their loss of reality. Lianne and Justin cannot reach Keith, though he moves in with them after 09/11. Instead of dealing with his trauma, Keith loses himself in poker, like he did when he and Lianne were separated. The game offers him the opportunity to focus on the cards within clear-cut rules, in contrast to his confusing life. He becomes a professional player and thereby makes poker his real life. Keith is convinced that free will only exists within the boundaries of the game, which gives him a reason to neglect the life he has in the real world. He does not see a purpose in life, an attitude strengthened by 09/11 but already present before he got separated from his wife. Poker is Keith’s universal escape from the reality he cannot handle. Keith loses all sense for himself, time and space through the game. Nevertheless, he cannot escape the upcoming images of dust and blood when the first tower collapsed.
Lianne: Lianne is in her forties and lives together with her son Justin in New York City. Working as a free lance reader allows her to supervise a weekly group therapy for patients with Alzheimer. She does not experience the fall of the towers in person. Therefore she tries to gain experience through Keith and the therapy group to have at least second-hand experience to deal with. Lianne is emotionally dependent on the therapy group, her (ex-) husband Keith and even her mother. She does not seem to be capable of taking action, as she mostly adopts the passive part in conversations and decisions. She experiences 09/11 through Keith, who moves in with her after the fall of the World Trade Center. Though Lianne is in need of emotional reliability, Keith cannot give her the sureness and familial solidarity. Lianne and Keith cannot reach each other, as an insurmountable difference between them makes communication impossible, Keith's emotional numbness, shattering newspaper articles and her own feelings harden into Lianne's comprehension that there is no such thing as certainty. She tries to regain a sense of safeness gathering all the information she can on the attacks, empathizing with each single victim of 09/11. She wants to understand the terrorists' motivation for 09/11, tries to comprehend their and her own relation to religion. Lianne cannot believe in any god and seems to dislike herself for this. Martin's political past, the performances of Falling Man and the oriental music played by her neighbor Elena frighten Liane very much. Later her anxiety turns into aggression: She provokes a fight with Elena and develops an ambiguous attitude towards Martin's former membership in the German Kommune 1. Finally she abandons her former wish to edit a book on 09/11.
Justin: The mother of Justin, Lianne, tries to keep the shocking news from him. Unfortunately, he and his friends gather the little information they got and develop them with their fantasy to a reasonable explanation. To their minds, the towers do still stand and will eventually come down this giving them a reason to watch out for airplanes. Bin Laden becomes Bill Lawton, speaks several languages, always walks barefooted and will lead his jets to collide to crush into the World Trade Center. Justin and his friends in contrast to the adults, try to visualize the danger in front. In this way Justin and his friends deal with the news, whereas adults like Keith simply try to suppress it.
Nina: Nina, is Lianne’s mother and a former professor of art. Her vivid mind stands in contrast to her drugged body. Nina, her boyfriend Martin and Lianne have endless discussions and quarrels about 09/11 and America’s role in the world. Nina simply accepts the events, as she also does not question Martin’s past as a member of the Kommune 1. Nina is aware that taking things as they are is a suboptimal way of dealing with it, but nevertheless decides to do so. She has a very strong character and acts as a role model for her daughter. She does not mind whether she is in New York or another place, as danger can hit people everywhere. Finally she and Martin break up.
Martin: Martin, the (ex-) boyfriend of Nina, travel between New York and Europe for his work as an art dealer. In his former life, his name was Ernst Hechinger and he was a member of the political Kommune 1. He thinks that the Western culture, and especially America’s, is too dominant and provocative. In Martin’s opinion, terrorism is a struggle to free your culture from the western dominance to build your own identity. He is the only character in the novel who predicts America’s declining importance in the world. Martin is the link between the radical vision of the terrorist Amir and the confused Lianne.
Falling man: The performance artist Falling Man performs on lively places all over New York, appearing suddenly in great heights to simulate his fall, secured by a safety line. He reminds people of the photography of a business man jumping out of one of the towers, which became a symbol for the helpless victims of 09/11. The artist Falling Man presents this falling man; dressed in suit and necktie. He jumps or falls and imitates the photograph, holding still and becoming a picture himself. People are shocked by him, as he forces them to consciously revive their unconscious trauma and own experiences of 09/11. His sudden and short performances hit people by surprise as did the fall of the World Trade Center itself.
Hammad: Hammad is western socialized and becomes an active member of the terror cell. He wins friends and a purpose for his life through the group. Therefore, he leaves his girlfriend and stops contact with his parents. Hammad passes a training and learns to look inconspicuous and ordinary and how to operate a flight simulator. Hammad always keep some individual elements as if he were not completely convinced of the plan to kill others by killing himself. Even when he is part of the group maneuvering the airplane into the World Trate Center, he is concerned about his hurt arm rather than his coming martyr death. In contrast to Hammad, Amir is convinced that their suicides are martyr deaths for the jihad.
The book was received to wide critical praise and many consider it, apart from his magnum opus Underworld, DeLillo's finest novel. However, Michiko Kakutani writing for the New York Times considered it a disappointment, saying that although "flashes of Mr. DeLillo’s extraordinary gifts for language can be found in his depiction of the surreal events Keith witnessed on 9/11 . . . the remainder of the novel feels tired and brittle."
- Kakutani, Michiko (2007-05-09). "A Man, A Woman, and a Day of Terror". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-05-15.
See also 
- Excerpt, from The New Yorker, April 2007
- New York Times review by Michiko Kakutani
- New York Review of Books review by Andrew O'Hagan
- The Observer review by Adam Mars-Jones
- Salon review by Laura Miller
- Entertainment Weekly review by Jennifer Reese