Author exposes wounds of 9/11
Special to the Daily
There is something inherently brave, or perhaps blindly ignorant, in any author’s attempt to write a fictionalized account of the source of the 21st century’s most significant, defining and horrific common experience. Then again, Don DeLillo is not just any author. Of those that have written about 9/11, none has succeeded with greater bravery and success than he achieves in his recently released novel, “Falling Man.”
DeLillo’s prior works have all proven rather daunting to me as a reader in that they often seem as if they were designed to be sold by the pound rather than as a book.
Casting aside his tendency to define himself with wordiness, DeLillo has written “Falling Man” with a scalpel instead of a pen, using beautiful language to recapture the horror of the attacks on the World Trade Center. As the reader will discover, the psychic wounds of that day are still too fresh to have really left us really scarred. We have mostly, at best, scabbed over the wounds. The scarring is yet to come. With a degree of precision that could easily cause one to break out in a cold sweat of recollection, DeLillo peels off these scabs and exposes our collective wounds to fresh air.
Told from the vantage point of a couple who separated several months prior to the attack, DeLillo takes the reader from the collapse of the second tower through the days and months and years following 9/11 as the couple and their young son attempt to salvage their lives while New York City attempts to literally rise again from the ashes of the debris that spread across the boroughs from lower Manhattan.
After blindly fleeing the wreckage of his former office tower, the husband instinctively makes his way to his former home, where he is met by his wife who fully expected him to have perished. Covered with blood and ashes, she leads him “as a child” to an emergency room where his mostly superficial physical wounds are cared for and pieces of glass are removed from his body.
The doctor, in a lapse of good judgment, tells him of a phenomena that had recently been discovered from survivors of suicide bombers in the Middle East. Referred to as “organic shrapnel,” bits of human tissue ” pellets of flesh ” are propelled with tremendous force into the bodies of bystanders. The effects of this invasive propulsion will show up years later as bumps and cysts in the survivors’ bodies.
Therein lies the crux of this brilliant work. We are all still carrying organic shrapnel from the events of six years ago. No matter what our respective distances from NYC on that day, the flesh and bone of those that died has been wedged into each of our bodies and the bumps exist in us all. These infections may be benign or they may be malignant, but it is doubtful that they do not exist to some degree in every American, if not every inhabitant of the planet.
The events that have transpired since that day have perhaps dulled the impact of the moment of that early Indian summer morning. Anguish over an interminable war against a concept ” terror ” may have served to divert attention from the event that has been enunciated again and again as being the very impetus for that war.
DeLillo takes the reader back to that flash point of history, that Polaroid moment that we store in the photo album of our national psyche. It is a difficult journey, as evidenced by the image of a group of children who continue to scan the skies with binoculars awaiting the next wave of jets for weeks upon end.
He does so by using as a backdrop to his novel the actual photo that was taken of that tragic individual who was attaining maximum velocity as he had jumped from the upper floors of the North Tower.
This is the Falling Man and it is through the attempt to re-enact this image, in what can only be described as “performance art,” that the title character chooses to exorcize the demons of his own individual memory. His efforts, however, are met with intense anger at first, then fade with time until he eventually dies, virtually unnoticed.
The city inversely returns to normal ” art galleries, relationships, the daily tasks of living, but still under the gauze-like film of memory.
With a degree of mastery that can rightfully be called genius, DeLillo forces his readers to face their own residual demons. How we go about removing them remains to be seen. All in all, it is a well deserved read.
“Falling Man” is available at Hamlet’s Bookshoppe in Breckenridge. Owner Mitch Hankins can be reached at the store at (970) 453-8033 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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