Survivors of 9/11 struggle to live in a changed world.
By Don DeLillo
Scribner. 246 pp. $26
Nobody bothered to think about it at the time, but from the moment the first airplane hit the World Trade Center in September 2001, one thing was inevitable: Don DeLillo would write a novel about it. DeLillo, as has been noted before in this space, is the novelist as op-ed pundit, a '60s recidivist who simply cannot resist the temptation to turn his novels into lectures or, upon occasion, harangues. So, of course, DeLillo simply had to write about Sept. 11, even though -- as the results all too clearly demonstrate -- he has nothing original or interesting to say about it.
Students of DeLillo's work (and university English departments are full of them) are going to be surprised by Falling Man and not, I suspect, happily. In the past, however gratuitous or disagreeable the political opinions with which his novels were larded, the clarity and sinew of his prose always had to be acknowledged and respected. At his most confident and accomplished, DeLillo can write. But Sept. 11 seems to have paralyzed him stylistically. The prose here often reads as if it were an entry in the annual Bad Hemingway competition, or perhaps a parody of Joan Didion at her most strained and breathy:
" 'What's next? Don't you ask yourself? Not only next month. Years to come.'
" 'Nothing is next. There is no next. This was next. Eight years ago they planted a bomb in one of the towers. Nobody said what's next. This was next. The time to be afraid is when there's no reason to be afraid. Too late now.'
"Lianne stood by the window.
" 'But when the towers fell.'
" 'I know.'
" 'When this happened.'
" 'I know.'