Falling Man, a novel by Don DeLillo (Scribner)

In the June 28 issue of New York Review of Books, Andrew O'Hagan criticized "DeLillo's failure in Falling Man to imagine September 11." He also lectured that "good prose in a novel depends on its ability to exhale a secret knowledge, to have the exact weight of magic in relation to the material, the true moral rhythm." But imagining September 11 itself is not what this novel is primarily "about." And DeLillo has never written with more insight and "secret knowledge" about people -- though he's written as well in The Body Artist as far as exploiting the disjunctive and distressed sounds of conversation. His characters speak in near-Mametesque fashion. Falling Man is preoccupied with how we communicate in the wake of -- and react to -- cultural catastrophe: the narrator's voice, and the voices of the characters as they struggle to speak. Or, as in the case of Hammad, one of the 19 Islamic murderers, as voice surrenders language to slogans. Falling Man is psychologically acute, startling in its ability to describe the shape of raw thoughts and mental insularity, and broad in its thematic perspective, even while it's tautly written. O'Hagen seems to have wanted more novelistic density. DeLillo has instead given us the artful illusion of dissipating and crystallizing minds, the rhythms of conclusion evolving to doubt, sad solace and glad hatred. And September 11 is there as well, in the towers and the airplanes, along with the banked points of view that seemed to come with the tragedy. O'Hagen and others are crying that Falling Man is no White Noise. They're right, it isn't a satirical tragicomedy. It's not as charming. But Falling Man is riveting in some of the ways great poetry is engrossing, and DeLillo's piercing, spare sentences have a convincing immediacy. In fact, the rhythm of the language in this novel is itself a subject of the story, a mode of speaking that reveals the true impact of actual events.