Thursday, February 21, 2008

Falling Man, by Don DeLillo

This is the second book in a row that I read because of its cover. Falling Man, by Don DeLillo has an exquisitely designed jacket. The front of the book is a view of clouds from above, with a blue but nonetheless ominous horizon in the distance. Between the two words of the title, two thin vertical lines reach from the clouds up to near the top of the book. Extended above the lines, the words "A Novel" are printed vertically, in white. The words read top to bottom, so they appear to be falling from the sky towards the cloud floor. All this is interesting, but the clincher is not visible until you turn the book over. On the back, the cloudscape continues but in the midst of it, the tops of the twin towers are emerging. No other buildings are visible, just clouds all around, to the horizon. It's a great picture and very evocative. All kinds of emotional states can come out of it: tranquility, suspense, wonder, dread.

The book itself is less perfect than its cover, inevitably. It represents, presumably, an attempt to summarize or sample the effects of the September 11 terrorist attacks on selected individuals in New York City. It's very jumpy and sketchy, so I didn't have much emotional connection with any of the characters. The best character isn't given any emotional life at all: the performance artist known as "The Falling Man" who throws himself off of buildings and hangs from cables, in the attitude of the man in the famous 9/11 photograph, falling headfirst, wearing a suit, representing all our worst fears, free fall, total loss of control, the terror of impending violent death. The artist takes control of the uncontrollable, defines the indefinable. But he dies, in the end, of heart failure, unrelated to his vocation. He wasn't in control, after all. Nobody is. I don't need a novel to tell me that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

busy day on the achenblog. marmotkabob idea made me sad. but mobilizing the little guys for lookouts seems OK.