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Starred Review. When DeLillo's novel Players was published in 1977, one of the main characters, Pammy, worked in the newly built World Trade Center. She felt that "the towers didn't seem permanent. They remained concepts, no less transient for all their bulk than some routine distortion of light." DeLillo's new novel begins 24 years later, with Keith Neudecker standing in a New York City street covered with dust, glass shards and blood, holding somebody else's briefcase, while that intimation of the building's mortality is realized in a sickening roar behind him. On that day, Keith, one half of a classic DeLillo well-educated married couple, returns to Lianne, from whom he'd separated, and to their young son, Justin. Keith and Lianne know it is Keith's Lazarus moment, although DeLillo reserves the bravura sequence that describes Keith's escape from the first tower—as well as the last moments of one of the hijackers, Hammad—until the end of the novel. Reconciliation for Keith and Lianne occurs in a sort of stunned unconsciousness; the two hardly engage in the teasing, ludic interchanges common to couples in other DeLillo novels. Lianne goes through a paranoid period of rage against everything Mideastern; Keith is drawn to another survivor. Lianne's mother, Nina, roils her 20-year affair with Martin, a German leftist; Keith unhooks from his law practice to become a professional poker player. Justin participates in a child's game involving binoculars, plane spotting and waiting for a man named "Bill Lawton." DeLillo's last novel, Cosmopolis, was a disappointment, all attitude (DeLillo is always a brilliant stager of attitude) and no heart. This novel is a return to DeLillo's best work. No other writer could encompass 9/11 quite like DeLillo does here, down to the interludes following Hammad as he listens to a man who "was very genius"—Mohammed Atta. The writing has the intricacy and purpose of a wiring diagram. The mores of the after-the-event are represented with no cuteness—save, perhaps, the falling man performance artist. It is as if Players, The Names, Libra, White Noise, Underworld—with their toxic events, secret histories, moral panics—converge, in that day's narrative of systematic vulnerability, scatter and tentative regrouping. (June)
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*Starred Review* There have been a number of novels written in the past years about 9/11 that have attempted to come to grips with what that horrible day means to us. None of them are like this one, although Jess Walter's The Zero (2006) comes closest in terms of re-creating the emotional reality of the post-9/11 world. The novel's searing opening pages follow lawyer Keith Neudecker, who has just emerged from the World Trade Center, as he makes his way up the street, fighting raining debris and "seismic tides of smoke." It's not until he's almost there that he realizes where he's heading--the apartment of his ex-wife and son. And over the succeeding months, we are made privy to the family's reactions to that heartbreaking day. Keith's young son plays a game with his friends in which they search the sky with binoculars, looking for signs of planes and for Bill Lawton (their misheard name for bin Laden); meanwhile, Keith's ex-wife is both mesmerized and horrified by a performance artist dubbed the Falling Man, who, dressed in a blue suit and tethered by a bungee cord, launches himself headfirst off train tracks and balconies. Keith, having learned firsthand the benevolence of luck, dedicates himself to playing poker, elevating the rituals of the game to a sacred rite. Inevitably, inexorably, DeLillo ends his devastating novel with the sights and sounds Keith's experiences on 9/11 as he watches his colleagues die while slumped in their office chairs. And it's a testament to DeLillo's brilliant command of language that readers will feel once again, whether they want to or not, as scared and as sad as they felt that day. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.