So. Remember when I talked about going on a DeLillo binge? Well, that’s what happened. I finished Point Omega and couldn’t stop. And I still can’t stop. I went to Marshall, TX, last weekend and bought a lightly-used copy of Falling Man from a little bookstore called Prospero’s. Falling Man is the novel DeLillo wrote just before Point Omega, and it’s about 9/11. I’m not a big fan of historical (or historically-based) novels, so I wasn’t too enthusiastic. Turns out it’s pretty mediocre. It’s short and about what happens to a family post-9/11. Post-trauma, etc. The second half is much better than the first. This isn’t a review, so I’ll stop there. Here’s the paragraph on which I stuck a post-it note:
But that’s why you built the towers, isn’t it? Weren’t the towers built as fantasies of wealth & power that would one day become fantasies of destruction? You built a thing like that so you can see it come down. The provocation is obvious. What other reason would there be to go so high and then to double it, do it twice? It’s a fantasy, so why not do it twice? You are saying, Here it is, bring it down.
That’s Falling Man, and it was acceptable, though I have almost nothing to say about it.
You’d think a mediocre experience like that might make me wander off to another author, at least for a while, but no! I’m obsessed and insatiable. So, before I even finished Falling Man, I ran off to Barnes & Noble and bought a copy of Mao II, which I thought was supposed to be a historical novel, which explains why I hadn’t read it already. This one is fantastic, a relatively close second to my beloved White Noise. It’s about a reclusive writer, his assistant, his assistant’s girlfriend, and a photographer who takes photos of writers. And Beirut. And a few other things. It’s incredibly DeLillo in all of his listing, sometimes flat ways. I loved every second of it. A couple quotes:
Sitting for a picture is morbid business. A portrait doesn’t begin to mean anything until the subject is dead. This is the whole point. We’re doing this to create a kind of sentimental past for people in the decades to come. It’s their past, their history we’re inventing here. And it’s not how I look now that matters. It’s how I’ll look in twenty-five years as clothing and faces change, as photographs change. The deeper I pass into death, the more powerful my picture becomes. Isn’t this why picture-taking is so ceremonial? It’s like a wake. And I’m the actor made up for the laying-out.
The novel used to feed our search for meaning…It was the great secular transcendence. The Latin mass of language, character, occasional new truth. But our desperation has led us toward something larger and darker. So we turn to the news, which provides an unremitting mood of catastrophe. This is where we find emotional experience not available elsewhere. We don’t need the novel…We don’t even need catastrophes, necessarily. We only need reports and predictions and warnings.
I’ve stopped writing in books and started putting little post-it notes over paragraphs that stick out of the side of the book just enough to be detected. I don’t know where this aversion to writing came from, but it started last semester in a modern fiction class when I was reading White Noise. I just couldn’t bring myself to write in it. I don’t think I’ve ever written in a DeLillo book, which is strange because I tend to write everywhere. I’ve even been known to pencil notes into the margins of library books, and I sometimes forget to erase them. But that’s neither here nor there.
Speaking of the library. Just after I finished Mao II, I shut down the Writing Cave for a few minutes to run to the library and pick up Libra. They also had The Names, so I grabbed that one too. I couldn’t decide which to read first, so I chose the former since that was the original plan. They’re both historical novels, and I’m already having a hard time reading Libra, which almost immediately involves CIA and Cuba and other Historical and Political Things I Don’t Really Care About. But it sounds like DeLillo, and, I think, in the end, that’s all that really matters.
ALSO: As a brief interlude between novels, I read a lovely short story DeLillo wrote called “Midnight in Dostoyevsky” that was published in last November 30’s issue of The New Yorker. It’s about two college boys who basically make up the life of an old man they see walking on the street nearly every day, kind of like the game Grady Tripp and Terry Crabtree play with Vernon in Wonder Boys. (As a side note, can you imagine if DeLillo had written Wonder Boys? It would have been even more fantastic. Seems like his kind of novel.)