Gravity and Grace

By Gareth Evans


Don DeLillo’s Falling Man offers a profound fiction about the artesian truths of our time

Let us be clear, this is a partisan account... For this reader, the novels, plays and essays of Don DeLillo constitute the most relevant, profound and aesthetically invigorating project in American letters since the Second World War. And then, because the twentieth century spoke with an American voice, his reach extends, far beyond. And so, there are numerous paths into an oeuvre that continues to speak, and with increasing relevance, not less, to the present moment, to the besieged citizen seeking to understand, to breathe another day, to endure and even tentatively to grow.

DeLillo has illuminated vast arenas of our collective experience over the last decades, whether it be the struggle for individual identity against the varying pressures of mass conformity and the accompanying performance of self in society, the systemic nature of power and its surveillant means of control, the ambiguous nature of image and language, and most pertinently now, the relationship – personal, social, cultural – to the ‘other’, however defined. In an interview published in the 40th anniversary edition of the Paris Review, DeLillo talks about an imaginary reader of the published work, “a stranger somewhere who… a book that will help him needs realise he is not alone.”

In a sense, that is again what his latest novel seeks to address, this feeling of isolation in a world of collapsing certainties, and the resulting search for anchorage, for certainties, however brief, for reliable registers of continuing being. The titular figure of his novel about the aftermath of the September 11th assaults is at once the Trade Center worker in terrible plummet , a performance artist seeking to jolt passers-by into full awareness of the implications of the event, indeed all the characters in a book that tells, with compassion and a great, controlled lucidity of what happens when people find their lives in suspension against the unfolding of the vast and untenable actions of history.

That DeLillo, always barometrically acute to the underlying psychology of the era, and a startlingly prescient observer of twenty first century global dynamics, has written about this moment is of course more than reason enough to pick up this remarkably complex work. His is the authoritative voice we have been waiting to hear, a kind of piper through the smoke, leading us to higher ground from where we might see more clearly the land as it lies, and our own passage across it. Yet the rewards are greater. It confirms, if confirmation were needed, that at his core DeLillo is a metaphysical writer, in an age that needs but does not deserve it. From The Body Artist on, through Cosmopolis and his almost completely overlooked mortality play Love-Lies-Bleeding (Picador 2006), he has made explicit what has been at play throughout: the quiet, pervasive search for an index, a faith that might constitute a belonging that does not harm. The times are made for falling but, in the understanding and empathy with which DeLillo attempts to reach his readers, we can be sure we will not fall alone.

Falling Man is published by Picador in the UK.