And DeLillo reappears. The Angel Esmeralda, DeLillo’s first collection of short stories that I know of, has been sitting on my Kindle for a long time. Languishing. By now, you probably know my thoughts on DeLillo, so I’ll keep the explanation short: he writes the same novel over and over again. Meh. That said, these are short stories, and what’s awesome about them is that he doesn’t really have time to send all of his protagonists on similar quests, running away from some sort of media. That, of course, happens, though not in every story.
This collection is so-so. Some stories are great, some are passable. I’d read some of them before, in The New Yorker, I think, so I was a little annoyed to see them here, in a collection I paid for. They’re arranged by date and theme. The best one, I think, is the last and most recent, “The Starveling”, which, ironically, is the most DeLillo-ish and the longest. Running away from things, yes, but toward a medium – in this case, movies. That one’s really good. So is “Creation,” about a strange, Kafka-esque situation in which a man and a woman can’t seem to get off of an island. But can they? I really liked that one. “The Ivory Acrobat” is great, about a woman’s reaction to an earthquake. “Human Moments in World War III” is interesting, too, about two men floating in space, trained to decimate whole cities with a laser, and their ruminations. And “The Runner,” about a, well, runner, who sees a kidnapping and interprets the events so another onlooker would feel more comfortable. I think I liked “Midnight in Dostoyevsky” when I first read it in The New Yorker, but this time, I skimmed through parts of it because it seemed too long. That one’s about imposing identity on a man a couple of college students see walking through town. Not familiar at all. Meh. Merely passable are “Hammer and Sickle,” about roommates in prison and “The Angel Esmeralda,” about a nun affected by an apparition on a billboard. “Baader-Meinhof” is okay, I guess. It’s about meeting a stranger in an art museum and a near-almost-kinda-but-not-really rape scene. A very DeLillo-ish rape-ish scene in which no rape actually happens. I think I’ve covered all of them.
The Angel Esmeralda drifted back into my consciousness because I’ve started writing a bit, and, especially after the richness of O’Connor, I wanted to see how DeLillo does it in short form. I liked several of them because they weren’t the same ol’ DeLillo fare, and it amuses me that my favorite is. That said, I’ve never claimed that DeLillo isn’t an amazing writer, one of the best still alive. It’s just that once I figured out his formula (doesn’t everyone have one?) I found myself bored to tears. I guess that’s what happens when you study someone over a long period of time. It’s why I’d never study Haruki Murakami or Gabriel Garcia Marquez – in a lot of ways, DeLillo is ruined for me. I still haven’t read all of his novels, though, so there’s still time for redemption. And there’s the apocryphal Cleo Birdwell novel, which I’m sure will prove, at the very least, interesting.
So. This collection is hit-and-miss, though I’d say it’s more hit than miss, especially if you haven’t studied DeLillo so much that your eyes have threatened to bleed. Still, I would stalk him if he’d do signings. He seems to rival Salinger in his reclusion.
But we’re reasonably well into 2013, you (who check my Goodreads account religiously) say! And you finished To Have and Have Not weeks ago! And what’s this new mention of Mao II? How does it have anything to do with anything? What’s the deal?!?
Well, I’ve been busy. Or maybe I haven’t been busy, but I’ve been otherwise occupied. I certainly have lots of things with which to be occupied, so we’ll call that my excuse. But, anyway, here we are in a fresh new year, and I’m still wrapping up the old one, with two books I barely remember. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but now do you see why I combined them?
First up is To Have and Have Not (don’t worry: I’m not going to talk much about either of these). As you probably know, I’m a huge Hemingway fan, and I’m slowly discovering his many (many!) books that aren’t normally assigned in college classrooms. To Have and Have Not is classic Hemingway: it’s a Manly Novel that talks about Manly Things. (Which is what this novels has in common with Mao II: all of DeLillo’s novels that I’ve read are Manly Novels. I’m not sure what to make of that, except that I seem to be in the mood for parenthetical asides today.)
It’s about Harry Morgan, a Manly Man with a fishing boat in Cuba. Or at least that’s where he starts. After a fishing trip goes south, he’s forced into shuttling black market alcohol from Key West and other unsavory activities because he has to support his family. And Things Happen. I will provide one warning: there is a bit of a sex scene that involves a “stump” where an arm used to be, and it’s GROSS. Yes. All-caps gross. Or maybe it’s just me.
I’ve only met one Hemingway novel I don’t like: The Old Man and the Sea, which, funnily enough, is the one most people have read and liked. (I have the same problem with Vonnegut‘s Slaughterhouse Five, though upon a second reading, I don’t hate it nearly as much as I used to.) What’s funny is that this novel starts with one of those long marlin-fishing scenes, but it ended eventually, so it didn’t bother me. And that’s about all I have to say about To Have and Have Not. I really liked it.
On to Mao II, which I’ve read before and posted about before. I read it sometime last year, just before I got sick, because I was working on my thesis, and the last chapter is about that novel. Then, of course, I got sick and didn’t write the chapter, and now, it’s been so long that I’ll probably have to read it again when I finally do. Ugh. That said, it’s not a bad novel, but it’s your typical DeLillo (which is what my thesis is about), and I’m certainly not going to rehash it here. The end.
I know it’s been a long time since my last book post, but I’ve been busy. This time, I make no apologies. If you’d like to see what I’ve been doing lately, have a look over here.
I finished reading The Names a few days ago, but I’m so unenthusiastic about it that I’ve been putting off writing this post. In a fit of, I don’t know, insanity, I decided it would be a good time to try another DeLillo novel. I think I read something about this one in an article I was reading for my thesis. It involves a cult, and it’s mostly set in Greece. Sounded like a non-formula DeLillo novel to me. I was intrigued.
But, of course, it is a formula DeLillo novel. It’s just that they guy who’s running away isn’t the protagonist. You might argue that Bill Gray isn’t really the protagonist of Mao II, but that novel isn’t narrated in the first person by an entirely different character. DeLillo went all Nick Carraway on me.
So what, you ask, is this guy running away from? Language. The Names is all about language. And it’s not subtle at all just like TV isn’t in Americana, music isn’t in Great Jones Street, and literature/the publishing industry isn’t in Mao II. Once again, DeLillo beats you over the head with it.
I got so annoyed with this book that I skimmed most of the last third of the novel. I just wanted to find out what was going on with the cult. I didn’t care about the talking heads part. And that’s most of it.
Here’s enough of the plot. There’s a cult moving around eastern Europe that murders people based on similarities between their names and their locations. There’s no real explanation for it – they just do it. And the main characters talk about it.
The more I think about this book, the more I dislike it. I’m tired of DeLillo’s formula, and The Names certainly isn’t one of his best novels, anyway. This is the second one I’ve disliked from the beginning: the other was The Body Artist. I’ve been planning on giving that one a second chance because I didn’t see how it could be that bad (especially since I like Great Jones Street, widely considered to be his worst novel.
That’s all I have to say about The Names. I was disappointed. I’ll get back on the thesis soon, and I’m hoping that being so annoyed won’t make me lose interest again.
I’ve read Great Jones Street three times – and only once because I wanted to. It’s the topic of the second chapter of my thesis on How Don DeLillo Writes the Same Novel Over and Over Again. Okay, that’s not my official topic, but it’s what my Thesis Monster is really about. Translated: I read through this novel really, really quickly so I can read what I want to read. Which is not Don DeLillo.
That said, I’m not saying the novel is bad or that DeLillo isn’t a fantastic writer. Because it’s not, and he is. Great Jones Street is the “least interesting and most plotted of DeLillo’s Novels,” according to Michael Oriard. I’m not sure that I agree. Surprisingly, I generally enjoyed Great Jones Street this time around.
It’s about a jaded rock star, Bucky Wonderlick (supposedly modeled after Bob Dylan). As with most of DeLillo’s protagonists, he’s surrounded by media, which is imposing an identity on him. In this case, he’s supposed to commit rock star suicide. Instead, he holes up in his girlfriend’s apartment, trying to escape the music industry and his fans. But he can’t really escape, and he becomes involved with a superdrug, and he’s swept up into chaos again.
It’s really not a bad novel, but one read was enough. The vast majority of DeLillo novels (I’ve read most of them) follow a general formula, and they all sound the same. I hear all of his novels like Michael Douglas is reading them to me. All of the characters follow the same speech patterns, which isn’t terrible: my favorite thing about DeLillo is his writing style. It’s beautiful. Here’s the first paragraph of the novel:
Fame requires every kind of excess. I mean true fame, a devouring neon, not the somber renown of waning statesmen or chinless kings. I mean long journeys across gray space. I mean danger, the edge of every void, the circumstance of one man imparting an erotic terror to the dreams of the republic. Understand the man who must inhabit these extreme regions, monstrous and vulval, damp with memories of violation. Even if half-mad he is absorbed into the public’s total madness; even if fully rational, a bureaucrat in hell, a secret genius of survival, he is sure to be destroyed by the public’s contempt for survivors. Fame, this special kind, feeds itself on outrage, on what the counselors of lesser men would consider bad publicity–hysteria in limousines, knife fights in the audience, bizarre litigation, treachery, pandemonium and drugs. Perhaps the only natural law attaching to true fame is that the famous man is compelled, eventually, to commit suicide.
Michael Douglas read it in your head, too, didn’t he.
What having read this book yet again means to me is that I have to start on chapter two of my thesis tomorrow. Meh.
If Great Jones Street seems interesting to you, give it a try. If DeLillo sounds interesting, read White Noise first. It’s so much better.
I don’t even wanna talk about this one.
I hadn’t read a DeLillo novel in quite a while – we’re faaaar away from the glory days of the DeLillo Binge. While I was working on the Thesis Monster (which I still have to finish), I read most of his novels and realized that he’s just writing the same novel over and over with different characters and settings. Once I saw that, I lost all interest in DeLillo and all interest in the Thesis Monster. Which is why I haven’t worked on it in a while.
Here’s the plot of every DeLillo novel I’ve read (except, maybe, of Underworld, which I didn’t finish): A guy (always a guy: DeLillo writes Man Novels) experiences some sort of postmodern angst related in some way to the media. He runs away from his life or otherwise destroys it. Sometimes he attempts to return and is unsuccessful in reintegrating himself.
There. I’ve just told you the plot of Cosmopolis. And Americana, Great Jones Street, Mao II (the three novels included in the Thesis Monster), Libra, White Noise, Point Omega, Falling Man, and all the others I’ve read. That’s right: all of them.
Really, Don DeLillo? I thought you were better than that. Or at least a bit more creative.
I still say I’ll finish the Thesis Monster, and now I have a wee bit of incentive. Next August, I want to start Librarian School, which means another master’s. Which also means I need to finish the one I’m “currently” working on. I only need thirty more pages, and I have until early April to do it. I need to get my shizz together.