There isn’t a writer alive who is more talented or more prophetic than Don DeLillo. Even though his most recent novel, Falling Man, published in 2007, (which I completely by coincidence finished reading on September 11th which marks the eight year anniversary of the Horror) falls short of the work he has done in the past, it is still the best work of fiction dealing with the events of 9/11.
Long before “the planes,” DeLillo foretold the rise of terrorism explaining their mindset as “the lethal believer, the person who kills and dies for faith,” aptly depicted the power of mass media and full public viewed death, the seduction of technology and popular culture, institutionalized paranoia, how a crowd can become “violent, history-changing mob,” and the conclusion that “the rules of what is thinkable” has and will change as these things come together.
Having established himself as, in your reviewer’s opinion, the greatest living American writer with his fingers firmly on the pulse of late-date American culture, it is not surprising that DeLillo’s 9/11 novel trumps those of say Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Or as New York Review of Books critic Andrew O'Hagan in his piece, “Racing Against Reality,” writes:
If the twin towers could be said to have stood in wait for the Mohamed Attas of the world, then the Mohamed Attas of the world were standing in wait for Don DeLillo. To have something exist as your subject before it happens is not unprecedented in the world of literature—consider Kafka and the Nazis, Scott Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age—but the meeting of September 11 and Don DeLillo is not so very much a conjunction as a point of arrival.
In other words, no one has been destined to write the definitive 9/11 novel than Don DeLillo, which to date, he has done.
The novel, which spends most of its time following Keith, who survived the attack of the North Tower but lost two friends from his weekly poker game, and his family as he falls deeper and deeper into a state of alienation that eventually leads him to a depression inducing life as a professional poker player in Las Vegas, is another great example of DeLillo’s ability to depict middle-aged male dissociation in traumatic situations heightened by a chaotic domestic environment that steels away the protagonist’s power and confidence. This perhaps especially true in Falling Man as the planes pile it on even thicker by giving Keith an excuse to remain blank with shock.
Also of note are an interesting portrayal of one of the hijackers in the time leading up to American Airlines Flight 11 crashing into the tower and the ongoing image of a performance artist who re-enacts the iconic image of the 9/11 jumper nicknamed “The Falling Man.” These are some of the most attention grabbing sections of the novel and alone make the book worth reading.
Even so, DeLillo’s genius doesn’t manage to completely convey the events or the ways that they have made us crazy as a country in a profoundly accurate way. As New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani, who of course hated it as she does pretty much anyone—Franzen (penned his memoir The Discomfort Zone an “odious self-portrait of the -artist as a young jackass” to which he responded by saying that “the stupidest person in New York City is currently the lead reviewer of fiction for the New York Times”), Foster Wallace (tiresome, whiny), Amis (weak, risible) and most notably Mailer (silly, self-important and at times inadvertently comical) whose fiction I’m not crazy about but nevertheless share in his Kakutani hatred although think it did go overboard at times like when he called her “a one-woman kamikaze” with a “hair up her immortal Japanese ass” and told Rolling Stone that the only reason the Times didn't fire her was because she was “a twofer”, in that she is “Asiatic” and a “feminist” saying that “she is a token” and “deep down, she probably knows it”—that should be considered genuinely innovative, wrote in her review of the novel “perhaps not even enough time has passed for any novelist to grapple convincingly with those actual events, without being eclipsed by the documentary.” This statement proved to be unexpectedly—believe it or not—spot on since even DeLillo fails live up to the real time, live pictures that we all saw on that lovely and terrible day.