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. Traffic is minimal and there are no taxis to be had. Suddenly an old panel truck appears with “Electrical Contractor, Long Island City” painted on the side. It stops and the driver leans out his window and examines this man. He sees a man “scaled in ash, in pulverized matter” and asks him where he wants to go. Only when the man gets in the truck and shuts the door does he understand where he has been going all along.