Most of Falling Man takes place in various locations in New York City, although there is a visit to gambling casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City toward the end of the novel. Alternate settings include brief visits to Germany and Florida in the sections in which the terrorists' lives are developed.

The novel begins as the protagonist, Keith Neudecker, is escaping the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center. As Keith and other characters re-live their harrowing experiences, the setting inside the towers becomes more and more vivid. There is a long walk down some ninety floors of one tower that some of the characters must endure, since elevators are not working. DeLillo describes the heat, the dead bodies, the smoke, and the debris that the people either pass by or pass through on the long march down the steps. The setting of the fire and escape from the towers is provided from different points of view and is returned to throughout the story.

Another portion of the setting occurs inside Keith and Lianne’s apartment as the two try to make sense of their lives and of their relationship. They often leave the apartment and walk about the New York streets: taking their son to school, jogging in the parks, and visiting friends in nearby buildings. In this way, a sense of the city, especially on foot, is provided.

Although not strictly a normal setting, a lot of time is also spent inside the heads of Keith and Lianne. Both of these characters are intellectual but also confused. Sometimes being inside these two characters’ psyches is dizzying. They get stuck on a thought and continually revisit it, taking the reader along on a ride that circles a central point and cannot get off it, like a toy train on a very small, circular track. Just when the reader thinks the story is moving on, that the character is actually progressing, the thought pops up again and the reader is thrown back inside the character’s head,...

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Ideas for Group Discussions

1. What were your reactions to the performance of the Falling Man? Were his actions appropriate? How did they make you feel? How do you think his actions made New York citizens feel, especially those who actually witnessed the crash of the towers and saw people jumping out of windows?

2. How do you think Keith justified going to bed with Florence? Did he have to take their relationship that far? Couldn’t they have just been talking buddies, especially since Keith and Lianne were attempting to make a comeback in their relationship?

3. Why do you think Justin wanted to talk in monosyllabic words? Was he looking for attention? Why? Did he want to annoy his parents? Why? Or was he just experimenting with language?

4. How does the big secret in Martin’s past play into this story? Read over the sections that talk about his past. What do you think he did? Does the author make this point to link Martin with the terrorists? Why or why not?

5. What role does Lianne’s father play in this story? Why does she worry about his suicide? Does she think she might do the same?

6. How does Lianne’s mother’s interest in art add to this story? Does the author link the still-life portraits that Nina loves with the performance artist in any way? Are Martin and the performance linked? In what way?

7. How does the inclusion of the terrorists fit into this story? What is the author trying to do by providing details about their lives? Would you have preferred not to have read those passages, or did they broaden the story for you?

8. What was the significance of the woman downstairs who continued to play loud music? Why was Lianne so upset with her, even to the point of violence? Was Lianne’s violence in any way linked to the violence of the terrorists, at least symbolically?

9. Why does Keith turn to gambling? Is he trying to reconnect to the times when he was living alone? Or was he trying to live on the edge, the only place he could safely allow any emotions? Or are there other reasons for his becoming so engrossed in gambling?

10. Discuss the idea of remembering and how it plays out through the patients who are suffering from Alzheimer’s, through Lianne, Keith, Nina, Justin, and Martin. Who is trying hard to remember? Who is trying to forget? How are these characters similar and how do they differ?

Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Draw your interpretation of what the Falling Man looked like as described in this story as he hangs from the side of different buildings. What is this man trying to say with this position? Use your drawing to provide the emotions that man must have been feeling, in your interpretation. What is the look on his face? When you share this portrait with your class, provide them with the emotions that you attempted to express.

2. Research the life of Osama Bin Laden. How did his background lead him to the position that he holds today? What motivated him to so dislike the United States? Write up your report and turn it in to your teacher.

3. Report on the statistics of the 9/11 attacks. How many people were killed? How many survived? How many terrorists were involved? How many passengers were on the aircrafts? How many firefighters and police officers lost their lives? Also provide information about the World Trade Center. When was it built? How big were the towers? What types of businesses worked there? Collect your data and provide a report for your class.

4. Read a book of critical essays about Don DeLillo. What do critics declare are the author’s strengths? What are his weaknesses? What are the general themes that he writes about best? How does he compare to other contemporary writers? With whom do most critics compare him? Present your finding to your class, giving them a general portrait of his works.

5. Research the real Falling Man, a man who jumped to his death on 9/11. What do news stories say of him? Has his identity been revealed? Can you find photographs of him? What are reporters writing about this man? Why is the image so different? Share the information you find about him with your class.

Related Titles / Adaptations

Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (2006) presents a different type of terrorism on the other side of the world in India. In a small village in northern India, different factions are coming together that will change the villagers’ lives. A retired judge loses interest in life. His young granddaughter loses a prospective lover. Two older sisters lose their land and home. Young rebels from surrounding Nepal and Tibet, fighting for social justice, take change into their own hands. This is a well-told and rousing story.

Denis Bock takes yet another twist on the affects of World War II. In his novel Ash Garden (2003), he pits the lives of a German physicist, who is partially responsible for the creation of the atomic bomb, and a Japanese woman, who is one of the thousands of victims of the bombing of Hiroshima.

For another take on the influence of September 11 on a different New York couple, try Helen Schulman’s A Day at the Beach (2007). The couple’s marriage is disintegrating as the wife gives up her career to take care of their autistic son, and the husband has just learned that his prized choreographic work, called “A Day at the Beach,” is being stolen right from under him. Then the towers come down, and it is time to reflect on what is really important in life.

DeLillo’s classic novel White Noise (1985) won the National Book Award and opened up the door to a whole new audience. In this story, a noxious cloud of toxic chemicals descends upon a town. The people of the town are more upset by the lack of media attention, it turns out, than they are at the threat to their lives. It is through this story that DeLillo criticizes the consumer culture and the belief that the television provides a clearer picture of reality than reality itself.


Falling Man

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3)

Falling Man was published with little fanfare and very little advance notice other than an appetite-whetting excerpt in the The New Yorker. Advance publicity may have been surprisingly sparse, but expectations were high, for who is better qualifiedto write the definitive 9/11 novel than Don DeLillo? Other writers have tried, from various angles and with varying degrees of success: Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children (2006), John Updike’s The Terrorist (2006), Martin Amis’s “The Last Days of Muhammad Atta” (2006), Ian McEwan’s Saturday (2006), Jay McInerney’s The Good Life (2006),...

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Hagen, W. M. 2008. "Review of Falling Man." World Literature Today, 82 (1): 59. Hagen is not all that approving of DeLillo’s novel in this review.

Jackson, Thomas DePietro, ed. 2005. Conversations with Don DeLillo. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press. DePietro has scoured the media for tidbits from this reclusive author. In this collection, readers learn, from the author’s own words, the things that have inspired his writing.

Junod, Tom. 2007. "The Man Who Invented 9/11." Esquire, 147 (6): 38. Like many other critics, Junod believes that DeLillo is well ahead of his time, having all but predicted an event like 9/11. So who better to write a novel about the twin towers?

LeClair, Thomas. 1988. In the Loop: Don DeLillo and the Systems Novel. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. LeClair presents a collection of critical essays on DeLillo’s work.

Leith, Sam. 2007. "After the Fall." The Spectator, May 19, p. 246. Leith praises DeLillo’s writing, particularly the careful way he constructs each sentence. Leith, like many other reviewers, believes that DeLillo has been waiting all his career to write this book.

Lentricchia, Frank, ed. 1991. Introducing Don DeLillo. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. This excellent book is another collection of essays exploring DeLillo’s work.

McAlpin, Heller. 2007. “Falling Man: The Day It All Came Down." Christian Science Monitor, May 29, p. 13. McAlpin finds that DeLillo’s book has the ability to numb his readers with the chilling details of 9/11 that numbed the world.

Ruppersburg, Hugh, and Tim Engles, eds. 2000. Critical Essays on Don DeLillo. Boston: G.K. Hall. This is another excellent collection of literary essays by those who have studied DeLillo.

Seligman, Craig. 2007. "A Muddled Look at Memory, Loss and Pain." Seattle Times, May 27, p. K-7. Seligman provides a mixed review of the novel.

Szalai, Jennifer. 2007. "After the Fall." Harper’s Magazine, 315 (1886): 91–95. Szalai not only reviews DeLillo’s Falling Man, she also traces the history of the twin towers in DeLillo’s previous novels.


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 13, 2007, p. K8.

Financial Times, May 12, 2007, p. 30.

The Guardian, May 19, 2007, p. 4.

Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2007, p. R1.

The Nation 284, no. 21 (May 28, 2007): 18-22.

The New York Times Book Review 156 (May 27, 2007): 1-9.

Newsweek 149, no. 20 (May 14, 2007): 7.

USA Today, May 15, 2007, p. D7.

The Wall Street Journal 249, no. 117 (May 19, 2007): 8.

The Washington Post, May 13, 2007, p. BW15.