Thursday, September 11, 2008

Falling Man

I avoid most books and movies about 9/11. Some, like Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children, have made me extremely angry, trivializing the event by making it a cheap plot device (I hated that book). Others, like Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I've found very moving.

This is from Delillo's Falling Man (I can feel Eric at My Heart's Porch cringing now, but we share a love of Uncle Cormac, so I forgive him). Not a great book, but a good one. In its best moments he describes 9/11 with precision and grace, detachment and beauty. This is from the beginning of the book:

"It was not a street anymore but a world, a time and space of falling ash and near night. He was walking north through rubble and mud and there were people running past holding towels to their faces or jackets over their heads. They had handkerchiefs pressed to their mouths. They had shoes in their hands, a woman with a shoe in each hand, running past him. They ran and fell, some of them, confused and ungainly, with debris coming down around them, and there were people taking shelter under cars.

The roar was still in the air, the buckling rumble of the fall. This was the world now. Smoke and ash came rolling down streets and turning corners, busting around corners, seismic tides of smoke, with office paper flashing past, standard sheets with cutting edge, skimming, whipping past, otherworldly things in the morning pall.

He wore a suit and carried a briefcase. There was glass in his hair and face, marbled bolls of blood and light. He walked past a Breakfast Special sign and they went running by, city cops and security guards running, hands pressed down on gun butts to keep the weapons steady.

Things inside were distant and still, where he was supposed to be. It happened everywhere around him, a car half buried in debris, windows smashed and noises coming out, radio voices scratching at the wreckage. He saw people shedding water as they ran, clothes and bodies drenched from sprinkler systems. There were shoes discarded in the street, handbags and laptops, a man seated on the sidewalk coughing up blood. Paper cups went bouncing oddly by.

The world was this as well, figures in windows a thousand feet up, dropping into free space, and the stink of fuel fire, and the steady rip of sirens in the air. The noise lay everywhere they ran, stratified sound collecting around them, and he walked away from it and into it at the same time."

My favorite line is "Paper cups went bouncing oddly by." Such an unexpected image.


Eric Shonkwiler said...

I criticize Delillo's message more than his writing. And even then, I think you make me out to be more harsh than I really am. It's that postmodern Sound and Fury I rage against.

That's a very good passage--Cormackian, in fact, as I'm sure you felt: "otherworldly things in the morning pall." You could slide that into any McCarthy book and never know it was Delillo. For that passage I'd wager he actually read some McCarthy or Faulkner.

I wanted to look this'n up, actually, but all the reviews turned me off. I think I wound up with some Steinbeck I still haven't gotten around to.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Wow. Really takes you right into it... a verbal image.

I cannot begin to imagine how it must have been.

It makes me sad to see just a few flags here and there today, when 7 years ago, there wasn't a flag to be had for love nor money because the whole country sold out of them.

I know our patriotism is just beneath the surface, but I wish it was shown with more pride and honor than as a reaction to an unthinkable tragedy.

And remember how nice everyone was? Right away? So kind, so selfless, so much peace and love everywhere one went.
Where did that go?

Thank you for posting this.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

BECK said...

how was your day?
i liked your blog
you are fantastic!!!

really nice blog
fabulous fantastic
take care
see you

paula said...

Great passage, although I can't imagine I'll read the book. I love how honest you are about hating that Messud book- a book like Delillo's, and Foer's, that I won't read.

Maybe it's because I was in Brooklyn on that day, but I just don't want to read any fiction about it.

There is a very interesting article in the nyorker about this cop who died of lung illness - he was there - and now it's been classified as related to shooting up drugs instead of from inhaling the smoke. It was actually very sympathetic to him: he was a haunted man.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I have an award for you over at my place.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Clowncar said...

There is a certain joy in yanking your chain, Eric. And yeah, we probably agree more than we disagree on Delillo - my favorite aspects of his books tend to be the most non-postmodern ones. Like his stunning abilities of pure description.

Yeah, SW, it's too bad all those we-are-the-world vibes faded. And rather quickly. Got to have something to do with Iraq, don't you think? Hard to feel patriotic when you are so vehemently at odds with your government's actions.

Beck, hello, how was your day? I think you are fantastic too!!!

Paula, i read that NYorker article. Made me very angry. Perhaps we both have a subscription - I remember you mentioning Proulx's Tits Up In a Ditch in there awhile back.

Thanks for the award, Scarlett.

paula said...

I loved that Proulx story. She has a new collection that I'll read- she is one of the very few contemporary authors I follow.

What made you angry about the NYorker story?

Sarah Sometimes said...

just commenting on the comments here.... I read that Proulx story too and was just stunned by how bleak it was. But so beautifully written.