I am addicted to “Top Chef.” I can’t help it. Watching human egos bash into each other like obscenely bloated bumper cars is beyond thrilling to me. In fact, it’s almost as exhilarating as watching questionably talented, ratings-conscious judges regularly rip the contestants shiny, new arseholes. On a recent episode of “Top Chef,” one of the contestants compared their own food prep skills to Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel, whining “Nobody told him how to paint!” You can’t fabricate more cringe-worthy comments, folks.
The success of the “Top” reality television run and its unabashed attempt to slice sociology right the hell in half with embarrassing glimpses into human behavior got me thinking about even more volatile contest themes. Like, what about Top Graffiti Artist? Top Gossip Blogger? Or, since I’m here to eventually review a book, Top Author? Just imagine it. Twelve to 14 authors all living in one house with their varied inner demons and drug addictions all geared up for messy melodrama. In America’s current state of well, war, I can gorram guarantee that some gung-ho literate would feel obligated to tackle the events of 9/11. During a particularly harsh smack down of the overly sentimental “Yes, it really is too soon for you or anyone else to dissect the entire nation’s post-traumatic stress” manuscript by the judges, I imagine the jilted author might indignantly claim to be “a modern messenger taking stock of the emotionally charged and politically relevant events of 9/11!” Then, the chastened contender would adjust their spectacles, refill their pitcher of whiskey and stagger back to the queue of neurotics. (If there’s one thing I’m mostly OK at, it’s stereotyping.)
So, let’s run screaming from my TV-addled imagination for a minute and rustle up writing magnate, Don Delillo. I mean, what Top Author wannabe wouldn’t kow-tow in deference to the great and powerful D.D.? White Noise has been on the lips and in the back pocket of every book-loving hipster worth their Saucony sneakers since 1985.
Delillo’s latest book, Falling Man does what my imaginary Top Author could not. Checking his sentimentality at the door, Delillo gives us a 9/11 from sharp fictional angles. The book’s title refers to Richard Drew’s infamous photograph featuring a man free-falling to his death after the North Twin Tower was hit. The title is also inspiration for the performance artist character who mimics the Falling Man pose at various NYC locations. This harnessed hanger appears at regular intervals a la Turn-Around-Norman, and lends heart-wrenching poetry to an otherwise cold, calculating narrative. The cold and calculating words are not meant to sound ishy. Really. 9/11 is a shark-infested topic that is much easier to emote over than it is to examine. Double D excels at this picking apart by unflinchingly thrusting his characters at one another: Longtime lovers, an American and a European, bicker constantly but eloquently about what the word God means to the terrorists. A writing teacher punches her neighbor for playing sitar music too loudly. Children scan the skies with binoculars waiting for more planes to come. Alzheimer’s patients attempt to remember and write about the attacks. A terrorist struggles to meld more seamlessly into his brothers’ deadly plan.
At one point, Delillo waxes descriptive about a main character’s escape from the Towers. This is more or less around the time that my guts began twisting into a splintery, Turk’s head knot (Look it up. It’s extra twisty). After a big, bad anything happens, it is often impossible to mentally process the event. In order to immediately deal, one might opt out of critical analysis and static cling to familiar habits — this avoidance isn’t a conscious choice or anything, it’s just how it has to go. Falling Man chronicles that kind of shock and does a pretty bang-up job of explaining what it might be like to sit at your work desk, hand around a warm cup of coffee and suddenly have your entire world, literally, come down around you.
Just for scuzz though, let’s all imagine that Don Delillo really is a contestant on my fictional TV show, “Top Author: All Stars.” In this little lame-tasy, I would be a pissy but incredibly attractive (well, it is a dream) judge from “Writers Ain’t Shit Review.” After D.D. submits Falling Man for the final writing challenge, I would be forced to mention that while reading his novel, there was often no clue as to which character was dialoguing it up until the fourth or fifth line of said dialogue. Seriously dude, while we understand that you might just be the pinnacle of Top Authorness, cluing your readers into what’s happening is kind of the whole point of storytelling. Character change cues let us know the vantage point of the statement and the experiences that are influencing it. Otherwise the word power is forever lost and your readers become jazzercised balls of irritation causing them to slam the book down and surf the internet for an hour … or something. Also, was the poker theme meant to be some kind of deep, reassuring metaphor about life, love and all the rest of it? Because honestly, I just kept thinking, “Poker? Really?”
Constance Howes is a book critic for Pajiba and a graphic designer living in Philadelphia. Her hobbies include making out and messing shit up. In short, she’s a firecracker. She blogs over at I Love You in the Face.
Falling Man by Don Delillo / Constance Howes
Film | June 25, 2007 | Comments ()