Tag: delillo (page 1 of 3)

2015 Book #12: Rabbit, Run

rabbitrunHere’s yet another case of You Got an English Degree…How? I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I got through college and a master’s degree without reading Updike. (In my defense, this time is not as bad as when I got called out in a graduate class for never having read Jane Eyre…which I promptly read and enjoyed. That was several years ago.) Rabbit, Run and the rest of the Rabbit Angstrom series have been on my radar since, say, 2000, and I even own one of his books, but this is the first time I’ve ever read him.

Not far into Rabbit, Run, I became an instant fan.

I think I was turned off by the basketball on every cover of every Rabbit book ever. I thought I was in for a sports novel (which also might explain why I can’t get through Underworld). Fifteen minutes into the audiobook, I realized that Rabbit, Run is not, in fact, a sports novel, but a mannish family novel with some interesting similarities to DeLillo. And better yet, I haven’t ruined Updike for myself like I have DeLillo by studying him. Oh, yeah.

Rabbit, Run is about Harry Angstrom, who was, yes, a high school basketball star. But that’s pretty much where the sports end. Of course, that experience has in a lot of ways shaped his life, but that’s only part of the story. Harry is married to a woman named June and has one young kid and another on the way. He’s unhappy in his marriage for several reasons and runs off…for a couple months. One day, instead of picking up his car and then his kid, he takes the car and heads south. Several hours later, he heads back to town, finds his old basketball coach, Marty Tothero, and asks his advice. He ends up on a double date with Tothero, his girlfriend, and another girl named Ruth. Harry moves in with Ruth for a couple months before returning home when his baby is born. Of course, there are consequences.

I was so surprised by how good this novel is and how much I enjoyed it. I had no idea what I was in for, and I was so pleasantly surprised that I’m having a hard time not immediately reaching for Rabbit Redux. Seriously, y’all. If you haven’t read Updike, run to your local library or bookstore. And if you like our old friend DeLillo, you’ll like Updike, possibly even more.

Featured image credit: Jason Yung

2014 Book #53: White Noise

whitenoisecomicI didn’t read White Noise because I wanted to. Not this time, anyway. I read it again because I wanted to give Don DeLillo a chance to redeem himself before I stashed him firmly in the Junk Pile. Okay, there’s nothing about DeLillo’s books that deserves to be there except that they’re all kind of the same book, written over and over.

The thesis ruined me.

I wrote a post a few years ago (which I haven’t reread…yet) about how White Noise changed my life when I was 14. I really liked it the first time around – as I did the second, when I read it for a class in grad school. I took a Modernism/Postmodernism class just because that book was on the syllabus.

And White Noise is a spectacular book. A Great Book, in fact. Almost everyone agrees that it’s DeLillo’s best novel (though there are some dissenters who claim that Underworld is. I can’t get through it.). White Noise is one of the few that doesn’t follow his usual plot-line involving running away from the media.

Except here, not just one character, but everyone is running away from death. This novel is about the fear of death and what people do either to overcome it or to distract themselves from it.

Jack Gladney is a professor of Hitler Studies in a small college in a small town. He lives with his fifth(?) wife and a mixture of children, both his and hers. Everyone talks about death. It fits snugly into every single conversation. But I’ll get to that in a minute. When I first read this novel, I thought it was about the Airborne Toxic Event that happens around the 1/3 mark. I thought the bulk of the novel was about that. I even forgot that anything happened after they stayed in the Red Cross shelter. That’s not even halfway into the book. There’s more talk about death and some death-fear-avoidance activities, carried about by various characters in different and increasingly extreme ways. Because DeLillo likes the extreme, and any worthwhile action must be an extreme action. I won’t spoil the fun except to say that it’s probably not what you’d expect, even from DeLillo. (I shouldn’t say that. There’s the Superdrug business in Great Jones Street, to name only one random plot point.)

really didn’t want to take notes while I was reading this novel. It’s just that it reeks of DeLillo (“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it’s impossible to see the barn.”), and there’s the thesis in its final stages, and I somehow can’t disconnect the fiction I don’t have to write about from that which I do. Which is why I’m not refreshing my Goodreads rating: I can’t be objective, so I’ll let the five-star review stand because White Noise is a great novel. I’m just kind of done with DeLillo.

One thing that I don’t like about it is that it’s so minutely planned. There’s a conversation about death around the three-quarters mark that is just too long. It’s like DeLillo had a lot to say and couldn’t stop without saying every single little bit of it even though the novel would be better if half of it had been cut. Every bit of his plan had to be implemented.

That said, doesn’t it have something to do with Great Novels? The best novel I read last year was Stoner. This year, I read Butcher’s Crossing, which is quite possibly the best (though not my favorite). Both are by John Williams, though I somehow didn’t make that connection at the time. Both are intricately planned and structured. Every little bit of the novel fits in perfectly. That’s why they’re so good. Part of Greatness has to be planning and execution of said plans, and that’s a huge point in White Noise‘s favor – if this review was objective. But it’s not because I can’t separate myself from my earlier reactions to this novel and my more recent reactions to other DeLillo novels based on that stupid thesis. There’s too much of a history.

So here is one huge stylistic issue I noticed for the first time: All of the characters sound the same – even the children. Here are two examples from close to the end of the novel (as I didn’t break down and let myself take notes any earlier).

A conversation between Jack and his current wife:

“I don’t mind running clothes as such,” I said. “A sweatsuit is a practical thing to wear at times. But I wish you wouldn’t wear it when you read bedtime stories to Wilder or braid Steffie’s hair. There’s something touching about such moments that is jeopardized by running clothes.”

“Maybe I’m wearing running clothes for a reason.” “Like what?”

“I’m going running,” she said. “Is that a good idea? At night?”
“What is night? It happens seven times a week. Where is the uniqueness in this?” “It’s dark, it’s wet.”

“Do we live in a blinding desert glare? What is wet? We live with wet.”

“Babette doesn’t speak like this.”

“Does life have to stop because our half of the earth is dark? Is there something about the night that physically resists a runner? I need to pant and gasp. What is dark? It’s just another name for light.”

“No one will convince me that the person I know as Babette actually wants to run up the stadium steps at ten o’clock at night.”

“It’s not what I want, it’s what I need. My life is no longer in the realm of want. I do what I have to do. I pant, I gasp. Every runner understands the need for this.

And a conversation between Jack and Willie Mink:

“By coming in here, you agree to a certain behavior,” Mink said.

“What behavior?”

“Room behavior. The point of rooms is that they’re inside. No one should go into a room unless he understands this. People behave one way in rooms, another way in streets, parks and airports. To enter a room is to agree to a certain kind of behavior. It follows that this would be the kind of behavior that takes place in rooms. This is the standard, as opposed to parking lots and beaches. It is the point of rooms. No one should enter a room not knowing the point. There is an unwritten agreement between the person who enters a room and the person whose room had been entered, as opposed to open-air theaters, outdoor pools. The purpose of a room derives from the special nature of a room. A room is inside. This is what people in rooms have to agree on, as differentiated from lawns, meadows, fields, orchards.”

Maybe these aren’t the absolute best examples, but do you see what I mean? It’s the terse sentences, the cadences. They all sound the same. It’s especially noticeable in that too-long conversation I complained about earlier.

All of that said, no matter what unnecessary text made it into the middle, the beginning and ending of White Noise are excellent, and those parts, alone, make this novel worth reading. You reach the climax and the conversation with the nun, and you’ll see what I mean. White Noise is always worth reading, over and over again. This time, as reluctant as I was to stop my pleasure-reading cruise, I’m glad I picked it up again, and I’m sure that, five or ten years down the line, I’ll say the same thing. White Noise really is a Great Novel, and it makes me feel just a little bit better about slogging my way through DeLillo’s lesser works.

2014 Book #34: The Cleanest Race – and a couple additions to the Fail Pile

cleanestraceNorth Korea fascinates me. The culture is so vastly different than my own, and it’s so secretive, that I’m intrigued. I saw The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters on Oyster, and it sounded really interesting. I’d just finished Butcher’s Crossing and had no idea where to go next, so I thought a little nonfiction might be in order.

The Cleanest Race is a succinct look into North Korean culture and how it functions. Evidently, what we see from the outside is entirely different from what the North Koreans, themselves, see. Palmer suggested that they’re living in constant fear of being arrested and tortured for what amount to thought-crimes, but, according to B.R. Myers, that’s not the case. North Koreans see themselves as a pure and innocent race that needs protection from the outside because of said innocent nature. Everyone else wants to break in and ruin them, and the Dear Leader’s aim is to protect his people from these dangerous outside influences. North Korea’s domestic policy is entirely different than it pretends to be in the international community: Myers claims, “Where [North Korea] presents itself to the outside world as a misunderstood country seeking integration into the international community, it presents itself to its own citizens…as a rogue state that breaks agreements with impunity, dictates conditions to groveling U.N. officials, and keeps its enemies in constant fear of ballistic retribution.” He says that within the country, residents hear “news” through carefully controlled propaganda that represents a truer version of official views than international versions. One of the most important ideas for keeping North Koreans compliant is the story that South Korea is basically held captive by America and would join the North in a heartbeat if given the chance. What is “most dangerous to the regime,” Myers states, “is the inevitable spread of public awareness that for all their anti-Americanism, the South Koreans are happy with their own republic and do not want to live under Pyongyang’s rule.” Which is all a problem with the constant influx of smuggled South Korean data appearing in the north.

So what that means is that the North Koreans, themselves, are probably more content than we think they are, but that’s because of the careful filtering of information by the government. In the book, Myers gives a very brief (too brief, really) overview of the basics of North Korean history from Japanese colonization until just before Kim Jong Un took over, as it was published in 2009. He follows with an examination of North Korean internal propaganda and explains how that is a better representation of what the North Koreans think of themselves than what international stories have told us.

The Cleanest Race is a reasonably good book about a fascinating subject. I’d recommend it for someone with a decent background in the history part because I spent some time googling as I read. (That Asian history class I took in college didn’t quite cut it.) Myers is a professor in South Korea and teaches students there about their northern neighbors, and what he says makes sense, so I think he knows what he’s talking about. You can’t always trust nonfiction, of course, especially when it’s about super-secretive Eastern countries with entirely different cultures that misrepresent themselves to the rest of the world.

I’ve been having a hard time choosing what to read – I called it a book rut, and I got some great suggestions from Facebook. Before any of that, though, I made an attempt at yet another DeLillo novel, Running Dog, and stopped halfway through even though it’s short. It’s about double-crossing art buyers trying to get their hands on Nazi porn filmed in the bunker where Hitler died. It’s about how non-moving pornographic art isn’t enough anymore, and they must move to the next extreme, video. The Nazi part just makes it even more extreme because DeLillo is all about new extremes in media. It’s the old shtick, just like every other DeLillo novel, and generally not any good. Here’s a representative quote: “It’s the presence alone, the very fact, the superabundance of technology, that makes us feel we’re committing crimes. Just the fact that these things exist at this widespread level. The processing machines, the scanners, the sorters. That’s enough to make us feel like criminals.” In the dialogue. Come on, DeLillo. Running Dog wasn’t worth my time, so onto the Fail Pile it went.

Next up was Still Alice, by Lisa Genova, one of the Facebook recommendations. It started off well enough. Alice is a 50-year-old professor at Harvard, and she has a husband and grown kids, and such. One day, she’s giving a well-practiced lecture and can’t come up with the word “lexicon” to save her life. Then she starts forgetting other things, like basic tasks, moving onto bigger things, like a flight to Chicago for a conference. The farther I got in, the more I got worried that this was just a list of Alzheimer’s symptoms, and Still Alice is just a novel about the slow steps into Alzheimer’s. I hadn’t, of course, read the blurb, though I’d heard good things about it. So I read the blurb, and yes, Still Alice is about a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s. So I immediately stopped reading and moved on. It’s not that this is even a bad novel. I just hate books like this. They’re always sappy and preachy and sentimental, and I don’t like any of those things. (Note again: This is my personal list of dislikes and not objective.) I also saw that this is a self-published novel by a neurologist who specializes in stuff like that, and I couldn’t help but scoff. Though, again, it’s not written badly, it sounds like something straight out of a creative writing class, formula and all. It bleeds formula. So. That’s the end for Alice. I’ve moved on to The Flamethrowers, which is more my speed.

In Puppy News, Zelda is 3 months old! She’s growing so quickly that I’m beginning to wonder if we have a Clifford on our hands.

Zelda also had an adventure with an identical puppy on the other side of a floor-length closet mirror at Nunpoo’s!

We went for a visit to celebrate Nunpoo’s 88th birthday. Happy birthday, Nunpoo!

A Really Long Post about Don DeLillo, which mentions 2014 Books #16 and 17: Mao II and Point Omega

The more I read (and reread) Don DeLillo‘s work, the more convinced I become that, in his lifetime, he has come up with one plot idea. That’s one reason I’m lumping these two books together. I’ve read both of them before: Point Omega twice, now, and Mao II four times. (Yes, four. And it’s not even DeLillo’s best novel.) They’re basically the same story, just at different parts on the continuum.

delilloquote

Talking about the general subject of my thesis was not the plan, but here’s how DeLillo seems to work. I’ve summed it up at least once on this blog, but I’ll expand more because I’ve discovered that they aren’t all exactly the same story, just a bunch a of stories that follow the same plot. Which is essentially the same story.

Keep in mind that I’m writing this post off the top of my head and without any of these books in front of me.

It started with Americana. A young man in advertising decides that he wants out of the visual consumer culture in which he has been immersed since childhood, so he takes a road trip across the country to escape it. Some interesting things happen, and he ends up back in New York, probably doing the same thing. He hasn’t changed much, just realized that he can’t escape media culture.

End Zone, DeLillo’s second novel, only occupies a vague back corner of my head, but an up-and-coming college football player continually flunks out (or gets in trouble or something) and ends up at a small college in the desert (along with motel rooms, DeLillo’s favorite place). He escapes the limelight, but I don’t really remember what happens after that. I’m sure he returns to it.

Then there’s Great Jones Street, considered by many DeLillo’s worst novel, but one of my favorites. Bucky Wunderlick, a 25-year-old but old and strung out musician gets tired of being spun on the media-driven market like the records he produces, so he holes up in a hotel, hiding from the world. He accidentally gets mixed up in what basically amounts to a mob war, in which he keeps a superdrug in his hotel room, then ends up being forced to take it himself. It takes away any language in his head, but eventually everything comes back. He returns to media-saturated culture.

Then there’s a string I haven’t read, including Ratner’s Star, about science, which I think I should have liked but that I couldn’t finish…but I digress.

There’s The Names, which I didn’t like, but it’s about the power of language. Someone escapes ye olde media-saturated culture and ends up in Greece, where there’s a language cult. Things go badly. I remember about as much about The Names as I do End Zone, so I’ll stop there.

Then there’s White Noise, arguably DeLillo’s best novel, about a professor at a small college on the run from an Airborne Toxic Event caused by a train derailment. He and his family evacuate and then return, and they’re affected by the media response to the event. There are gas cloud drills, and such. The sunsets in his town are amazing and beautiful because of what they’ve done to the environment: which essentially means that it’s artificial and not authentic, another of DeLillo’s favorite themes. And the lists! White Noise contains some of DeLillo’s best lists. You can read examples from White Noise and Americana in this very early blog post. That’s only grazing the surface of White Noise. If you haven’t read it, get a copy.

Next is Libra, about Lee Harvey Oswald killing JFK and the conspiracy surrounding it, commercialized and commodified by guess what? media-saturated culture. Are you seeing the trend? Media drives him crazy.

MaoII.lg.img_assist_customAnd good ol’ Mao II, which I’m pretty sure I’ve read more than any other novel ever, about a writer who is tired of being commodified by the media, so he goes into seclusion for a couple of decades before he starts to feel trapped and wants to put himself out there again. In his case, his efforts are too little too late, and he ends up dead on a ferry between Cyprus and war-torn Beirut. That’s the third book in the thesis.

I’ve only gotten through about a quarter of Underworld (I’ve tried twice and just can’t do it), another contender for DeLillo’s Best Book. It involves the desert, at least.

I really disliked The Body Artist and have apparently repressed any memory of it, but I’m sure it’s the same thing. I just broke down and ordered a copy, though I was sure I owned it.

Then, there’s Cosmopolis. You might have seen the recent movie starring That Sparkly Kid from the Twilight Movies. I didn’t, and I have exactly zero interest. I didn’t even like the novel. But it follows the trend! Here’s how I summed up Cosmopolis in a previous blog post: “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.” Another one I’ve repressed, but it’s about a young man in New York who goes crazy because of media-driven culture and rides around in a limousine (not even to the desert!) for a while, and then things go south quickly.

Next (I’m almost done!) is Falling Man, about how a man reacts to the media’s reaction to 9/11. Same thing again.

Point OmegaFinally, there’s Point Omega, which I just reread. Here’s where the continuum idea comes in: In Americana dude goes on a road trip and ends up in the desert, then back because he gives up. Mao II picks up at the attempted reintegration into consumer society, and the writer in that book fails miserably. In Point Omega, the protagonist was fairly good at reintegration – he was a professor, went out to the desert, came back, and worked for the government for a while. He ended up back in the desert, but not dead – yet. This time, he isn’t hiding: he has a cell phone and has allowed a filmmaker to make a documentary about him (yes, totally reminiscent of Americana and Brita’s photo shoot in Mao II). This time, the world comes after him. His daughter comes to visit and then disappears. He doesn’t deal well with said disappearance, and he withdraws into himself, a sort of final withdrawal that will end in a death similar to but at the same time very different from Bill Gray’s in Mao II. Here, the attempt is not to return to society: the protagonist here is done, but even after he’s put his time in, he still can’t escape his culture. He ends up going back to New York without his daughter, but he’s withdrawing, not reemerging this time.

(There’s also a collection of short stories that’s very spotty, called The Angel Esmeralda, which I’m not going to address because in most cases, DeLillo’s stories are too short to fit the mold, and that’s a good thing.)

That was certainly a spiel – and certainly not what I intended. It reminds me of why I like writing on this blog and why I hate writing for any other purpose: I can just spew out what I want to say without having to prove specific statements or even organize it very well. What I hope you take away is that I’ve expanded my view of DeLillo’s books. It’s still all one big story, but at least he seems to be progressing to later parts of said story. It’s just taking him multiple books and a lifetime to do it.

2013 Book #36: The Angel Esmeralda

angelesmeraldaAnd 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.

2012 Book #31 (and 32-ish): To Have and Have Not (and Mao II)

haveandhavenotBut 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.

2012 Book #19: The Names

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.

Anyway.

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? LanguageThe 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.

2012 Book #1: Great Jones Street

201201032113.jpgI’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.

2011 Book #37: Cosmopolis

cosmopolis_uk_first.jpegI 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.

2011 Book #33: O Pioneers!

o_pioneers.jpegI don’t really have much to say about O Pioneers! I generally enjoyed it, but it’s entirely forgettable. When I was in college, I reluctantly read My Antonia, also by Willa Cather, and thoroughly enjoyed it though I expected to hate it. O Pioneers! is the same type of novel – you know, pioneers and things, and I thought I’d like it more than I did.

I only finished reading it yesterday, and I’ve forgotten most of it. It’s about a family of (what?) pioneers, the Bergsons, in the Great Plains, trying to survive and add land to their farm. The father dies and leaves his land to his two sons and one daughter, and they quibble about what happens to it. Then, there’s a Steinbeck-type tragedy (a la Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath), and, as in another Steinbeck trend, Life Goes On. That’s about it. It’s short.

Again, I liked it well enough, but I think O Pioneers! might go into the Wait.-I-Read-That? pile with Franny and Zooey and other novels I’ve totally forgotten I’ve read. If you’re trying to choose between this one and My Antonia, go with the latter. I need to read that one again.

In Cather’s defense, there are lots of DeLillo-ish quotes that make me want to work on the DeLillo Project again and expand it.

The great fact was the land itself, which seemed to overwhelm the little beginnings of human society that struggled in its sombre wastes. It was from facing this vast hardness that the boy’s mouth had become so bitter; because he felt that men were too weak to make any mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty, its uninterrupted mournfulness.

A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves.

We’ve liked the same things and we’ve liked them together, without anybody else knowing.

It fortified her to reflect upon the great operations of nature, and when she thought of the law that lay behind them, she felt a sense of personal security.

This kind of language is what I like best about O Pioneers!

 Everything is vast and wild and mysterious because you're ten years old and America is wide as all the world and twice as invincible.

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