‘Some stories never end,’ wrote Don DeLillo in 2005, reflecting upon Libra (1988), his account of the life and death of Lee Harvey Oswald. ‘Even in our time, in the sightlines of living history, in the retrieved instancy of film and videotape, there are stories waiting to be finished, open to the thrust of reasoned analysis and haunted speculation.’ Seven such haunted speculations make up the bulk of Kenneth Goldsmith’s latest book, a series of direct transcriptions lifted from radio and television news broadcasts, detailing three assassinations (John Lennon and both Kennedys), two mass murders (Columbine and 9/11) and two accidents (Michael Jackson’s death and the NASA Challenger explosion). These events are presented in chronological order and with Goldsmith’s minimal edits carefully highlighted; the book ends with a short but accurate set of ‘Technical Notes’. While many of Goldsmith’s previous works, such as Day (a transcription of an entire edition of the New York Times) were provocative gestures, deliberately unreadable bolts from the vanguard, Seven American Deaths and Disasters seems to represent an urgent – and personal – response to a set of traumatic events lying within DeLillo’s ‘sightlines of living history’. As Goldsmith notes, ‘all seven events depicted here were ones that I lived through which changed me, and a nation, forever’.
The attempt to form an adequate literary response to a catastrophe such as 9/11 has, of course, preoccupied transatlantic writing for much of the past decade, ranging from DeLillo’s own short and rather unenthusiastically received novel Falling Man (2007) to Martin Amis’s polemical collection of essays The Second Plane (2008).