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, trapped like a circus tiger, anxious to get out.
Lianne often visits her mother’s apartment, which is also in New York City. She goes to her mother’s place to help her think. Keith also has a place to sort out his thoughts. He visits a woman named Florence, who had also narrowly escaped from the towers. Keith had accidentally picked up Florence’s briefcase on his way down the tower stairs. When he finally returns it to her, they find that they can talk to one another about things no one else is able to understand. For Keith, Florence’s place is bothrefuge and an escape.
For Lianna, her refuge is at a community center, where she helps Alzheimer’s patients write down their memories. This is ironic because Lianne uses this setting to help her to forget. Keith uses his son, Jason, in a similar way, taking Jason out to parks where he and Jason throw a baseball to one another.
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...
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