Tuesday, May 08, 2007

DeLillo's return

  • Adam Kirsch reviews Don DeLillo's latest in The New York Sun.
A well-written review of Falling Man. Consensus seems to be mixed -- Scott at Conversational Reading linked to another mezzo-mezzo review -- but I'm still looking forward to it.
Mr. DeLillo has even envisioned the writer and the terrorist as direct rivals, each seeking the power to change history by changing the way it is understood. As he told an interviewer in 1985, "There is a deep narrative structure to terrorist acts, and they infiltrate and alter consciousness in ways that writers used to aspire to." This insight, which once might have seemed paradoxical or frivolous, now looks like a simple statement of fact. Terror, we have learned during the last five years, regards individual bodies as a medium through which to affect the collective imagination. That is why the terrorist can so savagely disregard his victims' suffering, and why resistance to terrorism is always also an affirmation of humanism.

..."Falling Man," then, offers neither the sprawling historical canvas of "Underworld," nor the thesis-driven postmodernism of "Libra" and "Mao II." Instead, like Mr. DeLillo's last two novels — "Cosmopolis" and "The Body Artist," neither very well received — the new book is small-scale and subdued, at times even a bit airless. Reading "Falling Man," it is easy to see what Mr. DeLillo meant when he said that "the major influences on me have been European movies, and jazz, and Abstract Expressionism." The book is structured like a film, a series of brief episodes that fade in and black out. Indeed, the main characters — Keith Neudecker, a lawyer who worked in the towers, and his ex-wife, Lianne — each have moments of estrangement when they view themselves as if they were actors in a movie. "In the movie version," Keith thinks as he climbs the stairs to his deserted apartment in Lower Manhattan, "someone would be in the building, an emotionally damaged woman or a homeless old man, and there would be dialogue and close-ups."

Dialogue and close-ups are, in fact, Mr. DeLillo's preferred narrative tools. He keeps a tight focus on Keith and Lianne, in regular alternation, as they move through the days and weeks after September 11. And his prose eschews special effects, acting instead as a bleak, lustreless lens. Here is Keith picking a fight in a department store: "The man was listening to his companion but did not move. Keith was happy to stand and watch and then he wasn't. He walked over there and punched the man." This sounds more like Hemingway than what we usually think of as Mr. DeLillo's style, and the long stretches of curt, repetitive dialogue sometimes read like a parody of David Mamet.

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