The setting for Man Gone Down is the twenty-first century and very urban. You can almost hear the noise of traffic and smell of the exhaust. The story takes place both in Boston (in flashbacks from the narrator's past) and in New York, mostly Brooklyn. In the middle of the story, the Twin Towers are attacked and the narrator loses one of his friends in the disaster.
The narrator is specific about names of streets and different neighborhoods that he walks, jogs, or drives through on the bus or subway. He likes to look out at the water and takes readers across bridges and talks about the rivers he crosses. At one point, he jumps into a river in order to send his mother's ashes out to sea. The experience does not sound pleasant, not because of the ashes or the cold temperatures but rather because he mentions how filthy the water is. As might be expected from the urban setting, nature is seen only in quick glimpses and not always in a positive light. Storms come crashing in. The rivers are topped by oily residue. Stars and even the moon are hard to find.
Masses of people also lend atmosphere to the urban setting. There are often crowded streets and mobbed sidewalks from which the narrator tries to escape. He talks about groups of suits—businessmen and women who walk shoulder to shoulder down the sidewalks after work. He avoids them as best he can because he is anything but a "suit." He also designates certain subway lines as white ones; other lines he calls black. This is due to the destinations of the lines: some to mostly white neighborhoods, the others to neighborhoods that are predominately black—pointing out the segregation that is still very much alive.
The ridiculously high cost of living in New York is also discussed, as is the dirt of the city. Claire, his wife, loves the city because of all the various types of people and cultures. The suburbs, in contrast, she says, are too homogenized for her.
Although the setting is definitely urban, much of the story takes place through the narrator's thoughts and ruminations—so much so that one could argue that a major part of the setting occurs inside the narrator's head. The narrator is constantly judging the people he encounters or the friends he remembers from his youth. He also is forever evaluating himself. Most of the time he feels inadequate and unsure of himself. As he walks down the streets of Boston and New York, the reader is often peering out of the narrator's eyes, observing and taking in everything that the narrator focuses on and listening to the constant stream of consciousness that swirls through his head.