Once I start a book I must finish it, even if I am deriving no pleasure at all from it. I have to give the book a chance, and the author has until the last page to prove to me his merits. I won’t give up on a book no matter how boring it is, how many times I fall asleep while reading it, or how many times I groan aloud in frustration and would like nothing better than to fling the book across the room and have done with it. You generally can tell how much I disliked a book by looking at the number of pages it has and how many days it took me to read it. Falling Man by Don DeLillo was a week’s worth of agony spread over 246 pages.
I do not like to read bad books and I hate even more having to relive the experience in order to write a review of them. Falling Man caught my attention because of its subject matter. Its Library of Congress subject headings are “September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001–Fiction”, “Victims of terrorism–Fiction” and “Psychological fiction”. My library system had also made this novel four years ago a “lightning loan”, a term we use for extremely popular books which one can borrow immediately, without having to wait a long time in a waiting list. Lightning loans have reduced loan periods yet excessive fines if returned late. If the library had made this a book a lightning loan, there must have been dozens of people wanting to read it. I had also read about this novel in library journals so, finally four years later, I decided to read it.
I was keen on reading how the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York City played out in a novel, and DeLillo focusses on one man’s survival story and how it affects those around him. Keith works in one of the World Trade Center towers and survives the airplane crash. While he is walking around the city in a hypnotic daze, he returns, unconsciously, to the home of his estranged wife, Lianne, and their young son, Justin. She takes him in without question and helps him recover. The terrorist attacks reunite the couple and they seem to live happily.
The story is told in small sections within chapters. When DeLillo sticks to a traditional narrative, the read is rapid and often exciting. The psychological narrative however, written in a poetic prose that I unapologetically loathe in fiction, had me asleep in no time. I cannot think of any worse way to present a novel. It was boring, non-sequitur, and even though the lines were short and often consisted of one-line sentences, the poetic prose took me the longest time to get through. It was not fun and I dreaded these sections. I felt all too often like chucking the book away and saying the Hell with it.
After Keith recovers, he finds that he cannot return to work. His most fun was had playing poker with his work buddies, yet since he witnessed many of these friends die on 9/11, he doesn’t even have this pleasure anymore. Keith drifts from his family again, and finds himself in Las Vegas where he lives half the year playing poker yet faithfully returning home with money to support his wife and son.
It was small consolation that the best part of the novel was in its final ten pages. DeLillo recounts the crashing of an airplane into one of the World Trade Center buildings from the terrorist’s point of view. He then writes about Keith’s moments in the tower post-impact, and his efforts to save people and then to escape. This was the only time in the entire book that I sat glued to the pages, not wanting to put the book down. I was hoping from what little I had known about the book before I read it that the entire novel would be like this.