New DeLillo--Falling Man and the Problem of Time

When Bud and I had lunch, we talked about blogging and the future of book blogging and the reasons why it can be hard to get a conversation going on a book blog.

The problem, it seems to me, is the problem of time.

While we all follow the news on the same day, we aren’t--thank God--reading the same books at the same time. That’s why, for lively discussion and a change of pace, I love the success of some of the great reading group blogs like 400 Windmills (Quixote), A Curious Singularity (short fiction), and the LitBlog Co-op (contemporary literature).

More fiercely than that, though, I love the ability to choose to read whatever in the world I want to read next, regardless of what is being talked about.

And the forthcoming DeLillo is a great example of that.

My upstairs neighbor is in the book business. She came by the new DeLillo and passed it on to me. I read it and gave it to a student who’s a huge fan. (JRG: If you read this, maybe you could put the first paragraph into the comments to satisfy the commenters?) So now, a couple months before it’ll start showing up everywhere else, I’ve read it.

And, oddly enough, it’s the only DeLillo I’ve read. So, what can I tell you about it?

It’s a 9/11 novel. It’s wonderful. My guess--confirmed by my student--is that it’s excellent but not the very, very best of his work.

It opens on the morning of September 11, 2001, after the collapse of the first tower, with a dust-covered and bleeding man walking uptown, briefcase in hand. In shock, he steers himself to his ex-wife’s apartment.

From there, we follow him, his wife and son, his wife’s mother & her boyfriend, and the owner of the briefcase, in those dark, confusing weeks after September 11. There are also several interpolated chapters--stunning and moving and deeply upsetting--following the life (and death) of one of the suicide bombers. DeLillo captures the uncertain mood of those days perfectly but this is not a novel about that strange grief-stricken elation, that “we are all Americans now” mood that the war so effectively killed. Instead, it’s a novel about mounting anger, anxiety, and nervousness. Maybe it’s a novel about the mood that led to the war. The children--the son and his friends--are incredibly wonderful, creepily watching the skies with binoculars.

Best, for me, was the brittle anger of the ex-wife, lying next to her husband in bed, wondering if they would ever make love again, washing his clothes separately, and, most chillingly, letting herself think racist thoughts--doesn’t that music sound Arabic? Is that blouse Morroccan? Why is she wearing that blouse in these difficult times? Why is she listening to that music in these sensitive times?

Oh, those poisonous thoughts. Oh, the marvel of watching DeLillo reveal the poisonous thoughts of an ordinary unhappy woman to us.

There is neither hand-wringing nor kumbaya here. Just carefully observed, horrible, limited, and ordinary upper-middle class white Americans burrowing back into the Upper East Side.

So, months from now, when the book comes out, when people start talking about it, perhaps you’ll remember reading this little meditation-cum-review and think to pick up the book. But, by then, where will the comments thread on this post be? You’ll post your reaction on your own blog and our imperfect, ill-timed conversation will carry on imperfectly, at its own lugubrious and erratic pace.