How does Keith fare, afterward? He was always a reticent man, we learn. As a survivor, he’s enigmatic, troubled, restless, maybe even dangerous—like the protagonist of almost any DeLillo novel, even the very first, Americana (1971). He moves in with Lianne and Justin, knowing that the only thing he’ll miss from his recent past is the weekly poker game, “the one uncomplicated interval.”
After the planes, “he felt strange to himself, or always had, but it was different now because he was watching.” Of course. Time passes, though, and it seems that it just might be true, what he tells Lianne: “We’re ready to sink into our little lives.”
But no, Keith is not yet ready to “sink”—and his strategic resistance takes him back to the poker table, as a professional now, flying out to Las Vegas to play in tournaments.
“The cards fell randomly, no assignable cause, but he remained the agent of free choice …. [T]he game had structure, guiding principles, sweet and easy interludes of dream logic when the player knows that the card he needs is the card that’s sure to fall. Then, always, in the crucial instant ever repeated hand after hand, the choice of yes or no. Call or raise, call or fold, the little binary pulse located behind the eyes, the choice that reminds you who you are.”
At the poker table, Keith is sustained by an illusion of control. And here (one final passage from this beautifully crafted, endlessly quotable novel) is an image that captures the essence of everything he’s hoping to shut out, an eerie image from the awful, surreal seconds after the fall of the first tower:
“There was something else then, outside all this, not belonging to this, aloft. He watched it coming down. A shirt came down out of the high smoke, a shirt lifted and drifting in the scant light and then falling again, down toward the river.”
Adam Begley is books editor of The Observer.