One of the most significant parts of my experience of 9-11 -- comfortably far away upstate -- was reading the little biographies of the victims in the Times. I tried to read all of them. Every single person seemed so interesting, and every life so complex and full, that the hugeness of the loss (3000 of those big rich lives) was made real.
So I couldn't help but wonder why DeLillo chose his main character, a numb, zombied-out businessman named Keith. All those potential characters, plus of course the imagination's limitless offerings, and he chooses this guy? Keith copes with the death of his friends and his own narrow escape from the towers by first returning to his ex-wife, then having an affair with another tower survivor, and then going to Las Vegas and playing poker. There is definitely something right about these ways of dealing with what happened to him (retreating to the past, seeking connection, then trying to exploit his good luck -- sounds like post 9-11 America all right) but it's not that interesting, mostly because he is just an empty suit.
I tried and tried to engage with this book, but I couldn't. I even found it hard to stop seeing the words on the page, to sink into the consciousness of the novel. It remained, stubbornly, an intellectual exercise. The writing, though of course brilliant at times (it is DeLillo!) is stylized and conscious of itself, and the dialogue is exactly like a David Mamet play. Everyone sounds the same.
In Michiko Kakutani's review of the book, she asks if maybe it's just an impossible literary task to "grapple convincingly with those actual events, without being eclipsed by the documentary testimony (from newspaper articles, television footage and still photographs) still freshly seared in readers’ minds." True enough. But is that the only problem? Because I can imagine a 9-11 novel succeeding as a specific character's interpretation of those events -- something incredibly personal and idiosyncratic. I couldn't write it (God forbid) but someone could, and maybe someone has. I'm still looking, though.