The novel opens in a “time and space of falling ash and near night.” It is the morning of September 11, 2001 and the World Trade Center is collapsing. The reader is given slow-motion glimpses of the horror—the “stink of fuel fire” and the “fitful cries of disbelief.” Keith Neudecker, a lawyer in his late 30s who worked in the North Tower, walks in an ash-covered daze towards the place “where he’d been going all along”—the apartment of his estranged wife and their son.
Three days pass. The reader learns that Keith and Lianne have reconciled and he has moved back into their home. Lianne is comforted by his physical presence and his pilgrimage to her apartment. The couple is intimate again.
The focus of most of the remaining parts of the novel is on a series of alternating vignettes of the couple confronting his or her new reality: Keith, that he is still alive; Leanne, his return and its implications for her and their son. Keith remembers the poker games in his former apartment and is haunted by the deaths of so many of his friends. Lianne becomes immersed in her volunteer work for Alzheimer’s patients and begins to depend on the meetings for emotional support. Her patients are the “living breath” of the tragedy. Lianne also thinks quite a bit about her father, who committed suicide when diagnosed with dementia.
As Lianne moves from home to hospital, “Falling Man”, a performance artist who mimics “those stark moments in the burning towers when people fell or were forced to jump”, intrigues her. Meanwhile, Justin, their son, steals a pair of binoculars, scanning the sky for planes and for “Bill Lawton,” his misinterpretation of the name Bin Laden.
Keith realizes he carried someone else’s briefcase out of the tower. He returns to the briefcase to its owner Florence Givens. Florence had been a Tower worker from the floor below him, and an immediate connection is made over their shock and guilt at surviving the tragedy. “She wanted to tell him everything,” Delillo writes. “He knew she hadn’t talked about this, not so intensely, to anyone else.” She explains her torturous and seemingly endless attempt to get out of the building, repeating it twice for Keith. On his second visit to her, they sleep together.
During the next two weeks, Leanne and Keith try to adjust to each other’s presence, “their lives in transition.” Keith...
(The entire section is 890 words.)
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Chapter 1 Summary
Don DeLillo has written fourteen novels and three plays; he has won many awards both national and international. His novel Underworld was named one of the best novels of the past twenty-five years. Falling Man was published in 2007.
The scene is terrifying. Ash is falling from the sky, and the sky is darker than it should be this time of day. People are running through the debris and mud; many are holding jackets over their heads and handkerchiefs over their mouths. Some have taken shelter under cars. A man in a suit, holding a briefcase, sees smoke, ash, and debris flying around him on all sides. Otherworldly things are happening in the unexpected morning darkness. It is noisy and unnatural.
Faces are a thousand feet above, looking down, and there is a stench of burning fuel and the sound of sirens. There is something else, something that does not belong: a shirt is coming down out of the high smoke. He watches it as it drifts and falls near the river.
Many people have stopped to look back at the “writhing lives” and “scorched objects” behind them. Someone steps out of a doorway and hands him a bottle of water; he is unable to use his left arm. He is wounded but still walking. Policemen and security guards, hands on the butts of their guns, are running into the chaos.
Around him people are “shedding water” from the sprinkler systems, and personal items of all kinds are lying discarded in the streets: laptops and handbags and shoes, as well as masses of paper including resumes, contracts, and business documents. People are running then stopping in disbelief, many of them veering down side streets. There is fire, smoke, and ash. Runners out for their morning jog cannot believe what they see, and members of the tai chi group in the park appear to be posed in mid-air, arms and hands extended.
One tower has fallen. In time he hears the second tower fall. It is the north tower coming down; “that was him coming down, the north tower.” It is lighter here and perhaps more normal, if there is such a thing anymore. He can breathe more easily. Behind him, walking as if in mass formation, are thousands of people attempting to escape the destruction. He keeps going until he has to stop; he can go no farther.
The man tries to tell himself he is alive, but it is an obscure thought and he has difficulty believing it....
(The entire section is 499 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Every touch, gesture, and action used to be intimate between them. That was in the early times, eight years ago, when the marriage was new—not the “eventual extended grimness” their marriage became. As Lianne sorts the mail, she discovers a postcard casually scrawled by a friend visiting Rome. The picture catches her attention. It is a photo of Shelley’s twelve-canto poem called Revolt of Islam. It is a beautiful design, but that is not why it captures her attention. Though it had been mailed weeks before, she is struck by the coincidence of that title arriving on this week, a mere three days after the planes had struck.
Lianne tells her mother she is glad her son was with his grandmother when his father arrived at their door, covered with ash and soot, gray and bloody and unexpected. It would have been awful for Justin to see his father like that, Lianne tells her mother as they sit in Nina’s comfortable apartment just off of Fifth Avenue. She explains that she did not know what to do. The phones were out, so they went to the hospital. Nina Bartos, a retired university professor, asks why he came to her apartment, why he did not go to a friend’s house—or straight to the hospital himself. Lianne says she does not know but that Keith is fine. He simply needs some rest and some time.
It is clear that Nina does not think highly of her daughter’s choice in a husband. She asks how Justin is doing, having his father back in their home. Lianne says the boy seems fine; he is back in school, now that schools have reopened. Her mother asks what is next, and Lianne says there is nothing next:
Eight years ago they planted a bomb in one of the towers. Nobody said what’s next. This was next.
When the towers fell, Lianne thought he was dead, like so many others thought their loved ones were dead. Nina reminds her daughter that she once wanted something, something she thought Keith would provide; unfortunately, he is a man who “wanted a woman who’d regret what she did with him.” Lianne loved the idea of living full-time with such a dangerous man, says Nina, but he is a man “built for weekends.” And she married him.
Lianne reminds her mother that she then threw him out, would not allow him to stay. If Keith had been an artist, a scholar, or a poet, she says, Nina would have approved of his bad behavior in the name of “art.” Then he...
(The entire section is 477 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
At the hospital, Keith signs a series of documents as wounded people are wheeled through the hallways around him. He struggles to write his name and tie the hospital gown, but Lianne is there to help him. He is examined and checked for fatal conditions such as hemorrhage, dehydration, and diminished blood flow to tissues. The doctor removes glass from his face and talks about the survivors they expected to come but never arrived. The medical staff is standing useless, waiting for patients who will never come because they are buried in the rubble.
Justin’s two best friends live in a high-rise ten blocks away from his house. They are a brother and sister, and Lianne meets their mother, Isabel, on the street. Isabel is concerned because she has heard the three children talking, behind closed doors, in a kind of children’s gibberish. She senses their fear as they whisper about “this man,” someone neither the mothers nor the children know how to talk about without fear.
Keith stays with his ex-wife. She allows him to sleep in her bed because it is comfortable having him back in her life. In the days after he walked in the door, people begin to hear about his arrival; they call and ask nervously if it is a bad time to talk. What they really mean is that she must now be busy, can they help in any way, will he be staying for a while, and can they join the couple for dinner—somewhere quiet, so they can hear his story. When she keeps silent about him, Lianne does not see herself as selfish but rather as the guardian of a survivor.
One night late, after she arrives home from work, she asks him why he came here. The sensible answer is that he wanted his son to know he was alive and well, but it is only half the answer. He thinks for “a long moment” and explains that a man in a van picked him up on that day. The man’s radio had been stolen, but he heard the sirens and knew something had happened. He saw the smoke and only one tower, which did not make sense to him. Keith knew his apartment was too close to the towers, but he may not have even been thinking of going there anyway. He gave the man her address.
Keith has outpatient surgery on his ligaments and cartilage. The anesthetist gives him a heavy sedative that is supposed to contain a memory suppressant. It does not work. Whether it is a dream or a waking image, he sees Rumsey in his chair by the window, “in the smoke, things coming...
(The entire section is 1174 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
After the separation there was a kind of symmetry: Keith had his weekly six-man poker game downtown and Lianne had her weekly “storyline sessions” in East Harlem for six or so men and women in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. After the towers fell, the card games ended, but Lianne’s sessions have become more intense. A clinical psychologist began the group strictly for morale, and now Lianne is in charge. She talks with them about their lives and then suggests a topic for them to write about, such as remembering their fathers or something they always wanted to do but never did. After twenty minutes of writing, they each share what they have written. There are frightening lapses and unfinished sentences, but they laugh loud and often. Their stories are a mix of real physical details and hazy reminiscence, but each story is authoritatively theirs. “No one knew what they knew, here in the last final minute before it all closed down.” Members write about difficult times and happy memories. Today they all—all but one—want to write about the planes.
Back at the apartment, Keith is opening his mail. Some of it has his name spelled incorrectly, and he corrects the errors with a pen. The error usually involves one letter in his last name, Neudecker. He does not make the corrections for junk mail, and he does not make them in the presence of others. He is careful to conceal that.
Lianne walks across Washington Square toward Grand Central Station to meet her mother’s train. She has not been here lately and is unaccustomed to the tight security, though normal activities—tourists taking photos, commuters in a rush—are also in evidence. As she walks to the information desk to check the gate number, she sees a crowd gathering near the 42nd Street entrance. Outside, a man in a business suit is dangling, upside down, above the street. One leg is bent up, his arms are at his side, and the safety harness is barely visible from under his trousers. Lianne has heard of this performance artist known as Falling Man. He appears, unannounced, in various parts of the city several times a week. He is always suspended from a structure wearing a business suit, tie, and dress shoes. He is depicting those awful moments when people fell or were forced to jump from the burning towers. Traffic has stopped and the crowd is shouting at him as he represents a “collective dread” of a body falling among them all. Ten days after...
(The entire section is 1534 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Keith enters the park and he is struck by how ordinary everything seems. He is carrying the briefcase and wants to turn back; he passes the tennis courts and wants to throw the offending object in the reservoir. Once he reaches her apartment building, he climbs the six flights of stairs and knocks on her door. She is a little wary but lets him in as he starts to explain that he had not meant to wait so long to return the briefcase, which he had tried to express on the phone yesterday. She explains that she had not canceled the credit cards because she thought the entire bag was lost in the rubble. The woman is about his age, a light-skinned black woman; she offers him some water. He tells her he found her name in the directory but did not think to check her name against the other list to see if she was alive. There is a pause, and he asks if she would like to make sure everything is still in the briefcase. Quickly she says no.
They make small talk about where they work and Keith prepares to leave; one hand is on the doorknob and the other is on the briefcase. She smiles as he realizes his error, done out of habit, he supposes. They relax and she waves him to a seat on the couch, where she serves him tea and cookies. Her name is Florence Givens; since that day, she has done nothing but sit in her apartment. An hour later they are still talking. She had been looking at her computer screen but did not hear the plane until she was thrown under her desk—it happened that quickly. A friend from Philadelphia called just at that moment and had no idea what had happened; she wanted to talk about an upcoming visit. Florence remembers being wet from the sprinklers, men tearing their shirts and using the cloth for masks. She was one of many trying to escape down the stairwells, holding on to one another in the dense smoke.
It is clear to Keith that Florence has not talked about the event in such detail before now, and perhaps she can do so with him because he was there and understands. Once she stumbled and fell and she felt panic at the thought of being trampled, but an elderly man helped her up and talked to her until she was able to again move with the crowd. There were flames in the elevator. Someone said he thought it was an earthquake. Water was passed up the stairwell from below, and firemen were running up the stairs into the smoke and fire. Florence saw one of the maintenance men she used to tease with running up the stairs...
(The entire section is 1402 words.)
On Marienstrasse Summary
After evening prayers one cold, rainy night, an older man and a younger man stand in the doorway. Hammad blows on his cupped hands for warmth, watches a woman bicycling by, and prepares to listen to the old man’s story.
Fifteen years ago he had been a rifleman in the Shatt al Arab as he watched thousands of shooting boys pouring across the mudflats. Many were weaponless; many of those who had rifles were so small they were overwhelmed by their heavy weapons. He was a member of Saddam’s army and the boys were martyrs for the Ayatollah’s cause. They seemed to rise from the earth, and he shot at them and watched them fall.
Hammad is nothing more than a casual acquaintance with this man, a baker who had lived in Hamburg for ten years. They both pray here in this graffiti-covered building on a street where prostitutes walk. Now Hammad knows about combat in the “long war.”
Even as the machine guns cut them down, the boys kept coming, vaulting over the “smoking bodies of their brothers, carrying their souls in their hands.” Even if they were the enemy, the older man quit shooting these Shiites, Iranians, heretics; this was a military tactic designed to create a diversion for Iraqi troops as the real army gathered behind the front lines. He was sad to see these boys die by throwing their bodies under tanks and used as human land mines; he was sadder still that they thought they were winning by their so-called glorious deaths.
Hammad is grateful to the man, though he makes no comment. This is a man who is not old in numbers but “carries something heavier than hard years.” Their cry stays with him still—the sharp, piercing cry of ancient battle, the cry of history. It is not the sound of something happening yesterday but of always and continually, happening over a thousand years. The two men stand in silence as the rain and wind and cold seep into their bones.
The men who gather at the Marienstrasse are all growing beards. One of them even told Hammad’s father to grow a beard. They gather here, young and old, to vilify the West, though they are in this country to pursue technical educations such as architecture, engineering, and urban planning. They are quick to blame the Jews for anything they see as a flaw in construction, even something absurd. Hammad simply listens intently. He has a clumsy, bulky body and has always felt as if there were some kind of energy inside him...
(The entire section is 949 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
When Lianne’s husband arrived at her door on that day, it did not seem possible, a man appearing whole out of an ash storm. He was carrying a briefcase and stood there, nodding slowly at her. He walked past her to the kitchen and sat. She called her doctor, the hospital, 911, but she heard nothing except the sound of overloaded lines. She offered him water; he said everyone tried to give him water. Lianne knows if he had suffered a serious injury he could not have walked all the way here, but there was so much blood. As she gently wiped his hands, face, and head, he told her there was a shirt coming down out of the sky. There was too much blood to be just his; most of it must have come from somewhere else.
Keith and Florence are sitting where they sat on the last visit. He tells her he was an athlete in college and then gave himself a year to try acting. After two months he started law school because he had no other place to go, no other thing to do. This is the second time he crossed the park to see her, and if they never talked it would not matter. Florence tells him of her visit to St. Paul’s yesterday. She sat and prayed but could not look at all the photographs of the missing. Her ex-husband died in a car accident about ten years ago, and she is convinced they should all learn to accept death as part of God’s plan; it is something that will eventually happen to all of them. Florence reminds him that the men who did this believed in God; Keith tells her he never thinks about God, and that frightens her.
They drink tea and talk, reliving that day at the tower and knowing to them it will never be boring or too detailed. They also talk of marriage and friendship and the future. Keith listens more than talks, but he is a willing listener. He finally says he has to leave, and Florence blames him for this and all other leavings she has experienced. He stays. She changes the music from a romantic movie soundtrack to something Portuguese and native. The instruments are pulsing and she beckons him to follow her to her bedroom. This is the disc that had been in the CD player he carried in her briefcase out of the tower. He tells her to dance, and she does. They are both moved by the sensuous rhythms and Keith undresses.
Rosellen, one of Lianne’s group members, is afraid of getting lost and never found. Benny has trouble getting his pants on some days; more accurately, he has trouble convincing himself they are...
(The entire section is 1243 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Lianne sees the hint of two towers, the smudges of grey behind the white bottle in the still life. She turns away from the painting and is struck by what she sees as another still life in the living room—Mother and Lover. Nina does not see towers in the painting; she sees architecture maybe, but not modern towers. When Nina has stopped looking at everything else, she plans to look at these still life paintings. Eventually she will simply look at blank walls. Lianne teases Martin, asking what he has on his walls. He tells her he keeps bare walls—almost bare—both at home and at the office.
The couple’s argument continues: God does or does not exist and invoking God is a way to excuse bad behavior. Martin hunches down to where Nina is sitting and leans toward her. First they kill and then people try to understand them, he says; perhaps people will eventually learn their names, but they must kill to get the attention. And the argument continues. Finally Nina announces she will smoke a cigarette, and the tension eases. While Martin gets another beer, Nina asks about Justin, as he is planning to draw her portrait. When Martin returns, the debate continues but is interrupted by a phone call. Every call Martin takes seems secretive and is conducted in a variety of languages. The older couple talks about traveling, taking a trip to see the ruins. New York now has ruins, but Nina does not want to go see them. As Martin works his way to the door, he tells her the towers were built to demonstrate wealth and power, which was an obvious provocation, taunting someone to bring them down. Then he opens the door and leaves.
Keith and Justin are watching poker on television when Lianne comes into the room. Father has taught son some of the fundamentals of the game, but Keith understands this is television drama rather than anything real. Lianne enjoys watching the players, in their assorted postures and expressions. It reminds her of studying Kierkegaard in college. She sees Keith watching her in the reflection of the screen, and she smiles at him. As Lianne swoops Justin off to bed, Keith asks his son if he would like a set of poker chips and a deck of cards. He says, “maybe,” so he means yes.
Finally Lianne must speak to Elena about the music, so she pounds on her door. Lianne tells her it is loud and asks why she must play this particular music now. Elena just keeps telling her it is beautiful music and she likes it...
(The entire section is 1284 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Keith is not walking through the park in breathless anticipation of his time with Florence. Though they enjoy one another’s bodies, he keeps returning because of what they know together, their shared experience of that timeless spiral drift as they exited the tower that day. He goes back because of that, even though these meetings contradict what he now knows to be true for his life: it is meant to be lived in a serious and responsible manner, not snatched in segments. As he leaves each time, Florence wonders if she can stay who she is or if she has to become one of those people who watches people walk out the door. Florence wonders if they are still themselves, but Keith feels like someone else when she looks at him sometimes.
Carol Shoup sits with Lianne at lunch and they are arguing. Carol’s company is publishing a significant and timely book by a retired aeronautical engineer who appears to have predicted the events of that day. It details a series of connected global events that converge in an explosive moment, and it is eerily reminiscent of a late-summer day in Boston, Washington, and New York. Lianne is upset that she was not asked to be the freelance editor for the project; Carol is trying to explain she thought it was too close, too personal to even ask. Any editor would have to be immersed in the immense, tedious detail, and she tried to spare her friend that experience. Lianne does not care how demanding or how, ultimately, unprophetic the work is—this is exactly what she wants but does not know it until Carol derisively mentions the book. All Carol wants to talk about is Keith and how wonderful it must be to have him back as a husband and a father; Lianne tells Carol it is just a beginning and she obviously knows nothing. Carol promises to call her if the book’s editor finds it is too much or too heavy or is ruining her life. Lianne tells her to call for that or not to call at all.
After the day Rosellen could not remember where she lived, she does not return to the group. Today the members want to write about their former friend. Lianne ponders the beauty of faded lives and watches as members write about Rosellen. For the first time, she is afraid to hear what they have written.
Keith is going to begin his job in a few days, but today he is touring a fitness center. It is throbbing with energy and movement and regimen, and Keith feels as if these are the people he knows. Once he spends...
(The entire section is 1428 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
As Lianne leaves the community center after her Alzheimer’s group meeting, she knows their time together is coming to an end; she does not think she can start over with another six or seven people, enjoying the beauty but always grasping after her father. She wants to go home to find a message from Carol Shoup asking her to call as soon as possible; instead, she walks without a plan and finds herself in a place that reminds her of Rosellen. She remembers the woman’s last writing and thinks she understands the repetition, the rephrasing of a single word, as a kind of protection against the final stark condition.
Keith walks back through the park after spending half an hour with Florence. He picks up Justin from school and is relieved to have something to talk about with him: homework, teachers, friends. They plan to intercept Lianne as she returns from her meeting and to try to lift her spirits. They do not know her exact route, whether she is walking fast or slow, but they see it as a challenge. Keith is barely attentive to his son as he reflects on his final conversation with Florence, telling her it was over. The light fell from her face. He knows she counted on him to provide calm in her life, saying little but always attentive. Then she was the one who was still.
Lianne knows there will be no message from Carol when she gets home. There will be no book for her. She walks near the train tracks and passes a school, then she sees him. He seems to come out of nowhere on the other side of the protective fence that borders the tracks. He is a white male in a white shirt and a dark jacket. The children in the schoolyard are watching him, but the rest of the street is silent and disinterested for now. Faces are looking with interest out of the windows of the projects nearby. The man is closer now, wearing a suit and tie and stepping down the short ladder in the fence opening. Now she knows who it is and has the same sense of foreboding that she sees on those faces. The man climbs three stories above her, onto the train platform that resembles a slatted fire escape. She wonders why he is doing this.
Keith is only half listening to Justin as they walk, but now he realizes his son is talking in monosyllables again. He tells him to “cut the crap”—a perfect monosyllabic sentence. Justin complains that his father always wants him to talk, but now that he is, he wants him to be quiet. Justin is quite adept now at...
(The entire section is 1191 words.)
In Nokomis Summary
Hammad has a Visa card, a frequent-flyer number, and the use of a Mitsubishi. He and the others are living in a pink cottage on the gulf coast, and it is hot. One day they sit at the table and pledge their allegiance to their duty, in “blood trust,” to kill Americans. He shops in the supermarket and he is invisible to them, just as they are becoming invisible to him. Occasionally he looks at women, but he knows things most of them will not imagine in ten lifetimes.
His flight training is not going well; most of the others are doing better. Amir is an excellent pilot, logging extra hours in the Boeing 767 simulators, sometimes paying in cash wired from Dubai. They are all afraid the government is monitoring their e-mails and checking the airline databases for certain transactions, but Amir is not convinced and receives money wired to him at his Florida bank in his real name, Mohamed Atta, because he is “basically a nobody from nowhere.” They are all clean-shaven now, wear t-shirts and cotton slacks, and do a good job of going unnoticed. Men come in and out of the cottage, but not as many and not with the intensity of the days in Marienstrasse. Now they are beyond the burning desire and in “full and determined preparation.” Amir still burns, though, “dripping fire from the eyes.” Hammad lost weight in the training camp in Afghanistan, a place which is beautiful and entirely Islam to him. God’s name is spoken by everyone, and when he wears his bomb vest he knows he is a man ready to close the gap between him and God.
One day he drives his borrowed Mitsubishi down a suburban street and sees a car with six or seven people crammed into it. They are laughing and smoking; perhaps they are college students. Hammad wonders how easy it would be to open the door of his car and slip into theirs. Amir says in Arabic, “Never have we destroyed a nation whose term of life was not ordained beforehand.” Hammad knows this world with lawns to water and stacks of hardware on shelves is only an illusion. He orders takeout sometimes, but his reality is firing weapons, setting off explosives, making blood flow. Sometimes he watches television in a bar near flight school and imagines himself on the screen, walking through the security gate on his way to the plane. He will never get that far, though, for the government is vigilant and watching all of them, monitoring cell phone signals, and using undercover agents. Amir’s talk...
(The entire section is 1025 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Half a million people are on the streets of New York protesting the war, the President, and government policies. Lianne and Justin walk the entire route amid the burning paper mâché floats, people distributing leaflets for all kinds of causes, and hovering police helicopters. She would rather not be here, but she wants Justin to feel as if he is part of a movement, a dissent. Since the event three years ago, all of life has become public, and Lianne wishes she were anywhere but here.
Justin has collected leaflets all along the route. They tell him to mourn the dead, heal the wounded, end the war, and seek Allah, among other things. He leans against a wall, squatting, to read the pamphlets, asking her to pronounce or explain the words he does not know. As she stands still in the middle of this crowd, Lianne remembers her long-ago trip to Cairo, a graduation gift for her and a friend. She remembers being among thousands of people, “orderly but all-enclosing.” To them, she was a white stereotype: educated, scared, naïve, detached, self-involved, privileged. Now she feels as if she is in both places at once and needs to flee from both crowds. Lianne and Justin rejoin the crowd and work their way to a bookstore.
Keith will be coming home in eight or nine days, and Lianne is acting as both mother and father until then. When she asks her son the best thing he has ever learned, he is quick to answer her: the sun is a star. As Lianne ponders Justin’s statement, she is struck by the vastness of this truth. There is neither up nor down, just here or there. The sun is out there, and mankind is out here.
Lianne is forty-one years old and healthy. After reviewing all her tests, the doctor tells her she is unremarkable in every way. She passed all the tests, including the ability to count backwards from one hundred by sevens. Now she counts like that all the time; it has become a kind of poetry she recites while walking or preparing to sleep. It is one of the tests for the condition the doctor euphemistically calls retrogenesis.
The casino is a lonely place, observes Keith. There are horse races on the screens, “acres of neon slots,” and cigarette smoke wafting nearby. He is entered in a poker tournament taking place on three tables. When they are seventy-seven games into the tourney, Keith is finally aware of the same horses replaying on the screens around him.
(The entire section is 929 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Keith has spent months mastering the game of poker. He goes home periodically for three or four days—for fatherhood, food, sex, and love—and is now making money with some consistency. Although he still feels the need to go back to his wife and son, Keith is at home in a casino. He does not study his fellow players and their “tells,” as most do; instead, he studies the cards. His personal habits are strict: he drinks very little alcohol, he only allows himself five hours of sleep each night, and he does not smoke the cigars he once enjoyed. When he travels, Keith always looks around him to see who might pose a threat.
At one tournament, Keith discovers Terry Chang is also now playing poker for a living. They meet standing in line for a tourney; Terry had spotted Keith on the circuit a week earlier. They talk about this life. Terry likes the fact that the casinos all know him and he is on their computers. Keith is not so sure. After they talk, each of them heads to his own table with no plans to meet. “Later” is an elusive term.
In New York, Lianne and Justin live their lives. Lianne wants the good pen she knows they used to have in the house, but Justin claims he has not seen it. Lianne teases that she may go to Paris with Keith soon, but her son knows she will never go.
Terry and Keith meet again by chance and discuss the high-stakes poker games soon to be held in Dallas and Phoenix. They will be playing five-card draw and five-card stud, their old games. Terry has a lighted cigarette in a nearby ashtray; he never used to smoke. In isolated moments, he is the same man who used to meet in Keith’s apartment. While Terry Chang was better at cards, he had been one of them and yet not one of them. Terry is planning to attend another high-stakes game in Los Angeles, but Keith is reasonably certain that is not the right environment for him. Terry thinks Rumsey used to be the lone cigarette smoker of the group, but Keith said Rumsey smoked cigars. Terry Chang seems loose and carefree, but he is “inflexibly in this life.”
On the day of the happening, Terry was working in midtown but hates to tell people that because it sounds like nothing. Terry Chang heard that after the towers collapsed, Rumsey’s mother took a shoe and a razor from her son’s apartment for DNA matching for the tower victims in an armory. When she heard nothing, she went back with a toothbrush and then again with...
(The entire section is 663 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
A nearby gallery is displaying a collection of Morandi paintings, and Lianne realizes even a simple display of still life paintings has political overtones for her as she recalls her mother and Martin discussing the nature of God and jihad. Nina wanted her Morandi paintings, along with some others, returned to Martin soon after their estrangement. Lianne honored her mother’s wishes and shipped them. It made Lianne sad to think of them being sold in a cell-phone transaction. No one else is at the showing, and she likes the silence. As she views the paintings, Lianne sees a version of the painting that had been in Nina’s apartment. The two dark, tall oblongs and the white bottle. This time when she looks at it closely, she sees something else hidden in it—her mother’s living room and the memories she holds of that place. A man enters and examines her before he examines the paintings; Lianne moves to another area. She is not sure why she is so intent on this work, but she moves beyond the simple pleasure of looking at the art and tries to absorb it. When the man enters this room, Lianne cannot look at the work in the same way, so she leaves. These paintings were all Natura Morta, still life, like Nina’s last days.
Keith never bets on sports, though he enjoys the atmosphere of the sports betting rooms. He likes the sensory aspects of watching them on a screen, here and then gone, slow motion and regular motion. Keith shows his money to enter a poker game and settles himself at the table. Luck and chance do not concern him because he has memory and judgment. He can decide what is true and what is dissembling, when to strike and when to fade. Terry believes the only logic in the game is the logic of personality, but Keith believes in its structures and principles—then he always has the choice, yes or no. This is the “choice that reminds you who you are.”
At home in bed, Lianne and Keith embrace and say nothing. They spend four days of “indirection” before they talk about anything that matters; this is lost time “designed to go unremembered.” She continues to withdraw; he is, as always, self-sequestered. She is still calm and in control; he is now often literally distanced from her and Justin. While he is home, they take Justin to museums and Keith plays ball with him in the park. Justin throws quick and hard with his father. He is like a pitching machine, throwing hard balls at his father. First...
(The entire section is 843 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Along with five hundred others, Lianne is summoned for jury duty. She learns the trial is for a lawyer accused of “aiding the cause of terrorism.” Lianne completes the forty-five-page questionnaire with a combination of truths, half-truths, and gentle lies. She is juror 121 but is dismissed because of her questionnaire, and she is unsure whether the truths or the lies got her dismissed. She has been offered books on terrorism and related subjects to edit, and she wonders now why she had once been so desperate to immerse herself in such things so near the event’s happening and with the sound of Middle Eastern music playing incessantly in the hallway below her. As the trial progresses, a female lawyer defends a blind sheik but Lianne does not follow it. Instead, she is editing books on polar exploration and Renaissance art—and counting backward from one hundred by sevens.
Her father’s death by his own hand has “marked her awareness of who she is and how she lives.” Jack is in a marble vault in a mausoleum with hundreds of others, not buried, not resting in a cemetery under the shade of a tree.
Keith is in Las Vegas and she is reading a six-day-old newspaper. Her husband never reads the obituaries because people die every day and that is not news, but Lianne reads them. David Janiak died at age thirty-nine. There are no photos, the article is sketchy and poorly done, and there is no follow-up story. After a few brief details of his life, there is one sentence describing his acts as a performance artist known as the Falling Man. Lianne wants more information and does a computer search on this man, David Janiak.
She sees picture after picture of him dangling from places all over New York. His body was discovered by his brother. He apparently died of natural causes. He had been arrested many times and beaten up once outside a bar in Queens. She begins to read commentary, what others feel about his “art,” but then she stops. All his falls were done head first. The only photos came from passersby; none were staged for publicity. Most charges against him were dismissed, though he had plenty of fines and warnings. His brother, Roman, says David’s plans for a final fall did not include a safety harness. There is much debate over the meaning of his fall position; many claim it is the exact position of a particular man who jumped from the towers that day.
Lianne knows the photo to which they...
(The entire section is 592 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
There are sounds everywhere around him, and Keith works hard to hear each of them. The sound of chips being played and stacked and counted, like a cacophony of insect friction. He has to break his own habit of not listening so he can hear. The clink of chips, the “toss and scatter,” dealers and players, a persistent ringing that no one else hears.
Here, at the poker table, he fits in like nowhere else. In his off hours he chats with the dealers and almost becomes one of them. Sometimes, in the middle of a game, he gets the urge to walk out of the room and get on a plane, pull down the shade, and fall asleep. By the time a fresh deck of cards appears, however, he is again ready to play.
There is no fitness center in the hotel, but he finds one nearby and visits regularly. No one seems to use the rowing machine, and Keith does not particularly like it, either; however, he often feels the need to pull and strain until he is exhausted. He sets the resistance level high. He works hard and then showers in the mildewed locker rooms. He stays away for a while and then returns, setting the resistance level even higher.
One day Keith rents a car and drives into the desert. When he returns home in the evening, he looks down on the “feverish sprawl of light” and finds it hard to believe he is part of it, in the middle of it. That is because he lives inside rooms. He just now realizes how “strange a life” he is living—but only from out here. From the inside, everything feels perfectly normal to him. In fact, to him nothing seems more normal.
Right now he is avoiding Terry Cheng. He does not want to talk to him, listen to him, look at him, or watch his cigarette burn to nothing in front of him. He does not want to talk to the reinvented Terry Cheng, the man who converses easily three years after the planes.
Keith used to think about Florence Givens every day; he still does, most days, though he has never considered going back to her, crossing the park to spend time in her apartment. He thinks about her as he does a childhood home—nostalgic, thinking it would be nice to visit but knowing it is something he will never do. He never told Lianne about his visits to Florence, those four or five encounters over several weeks.
In the end is who he is that counts, not luck or skill. It is strength of mind, mental skill, and something more—the narrowness of need or “how a man’s...
(The entire section is 1493 words.)
In the Hudson Corridor Summary
They have secured the aircraft, and Hammad is sitting up front in the jump seat, catching his breath. He is supposed to keep watch or patrol the aisles with his box cutter. Mace, which he had sprayed, is floating heavily in the air, and he is bleeding from a cut on his upper arm. He is not confused, just out of breath, but he is not certain where his box cutter is.
If the plan is moving forward as he understands it, the plane is heading toward the Hudson corridor; however, there is no window through which he can look without leaving his seat. His cell phone is on vibrate, and the airplane is still. He feels no sensation of flight, and this is his long-held wish: to die with his brothers. His breath comes in short bursts and his eyes are burning. On his left, he sees an empty seat in first class. It is obvious to him that one of his brothers must have accidentally cut him in the initial scuffle, and the pain is intensifying. Now he remembers something from long ago—the Shia boys on the battlefield running across the mudflats toward their deaths with a battle cry on their lips. This gives him strength, thinking of those waves of young boys being gunned down by machine guns but never faltering in their suicidal mission.
Hammad believes he can see directly into the towers, though they are behind him. He sees their long shadows coming closer, they with their material possessions. Every one of his life’s sins is about to be forgiven; there is nothing now between him and eternal life. He has been wishing for death, and it has finally arrived. Fastening his seatbelt, Hammad begins rocking in his seat. His pain is worse and he hears noise all around him. An empty water bottle falls to the floor and rolls a bit before the airplane strikes the towers in a blast that sends Keith Neudecker out of his chair and into a wall.
Keith is backed into a wall and drops his phone as the floor begins to slide beneath him. He sees a chair bounce down the hall in slow motion. The ceiling begins to lift and ripple, and Keith sits down with his head between his knees and his arms over his head. There is noise and movement everywhere around him, and he understands the tower is, unfathomably, moving. Everywhere is a smell he knows but cannot recall, and everything around him is shifting, moving, falling. Keith sees a man across the hallway in the doorway opposite his. The man’s jacket is half off and there is blood on his shirt. He is...
(The entire section is 972 words.)