Reviewing the Review: February 7 2010

Don DeLillo’s been on my mind lately. I dug up his 1985 classic White Noise two weeks ago after finding my youngest daughter listening to an indie band called, of all things, Airborne Toxic Event. Rereading from the beginning, I was surprised how quickly White Noise drew me back in, how fresh, wise and witty this book was. Fun, even. But I’ve never had a similar experience with any other DeLillo work, and I find many of them (such as, for-instance, Game Six, his film about the 1986 Mets/Red Sox World Series) too incomprehensible to bother with.

The act of puzzling over a late Don DeLillo novel and trying to appreciate its rare essence has become almost a keystone of modern literary hipster life, and Geoff Dyer’s review of the new Point Omega in today’s New York Times Book Review smartly focuses on the experience and the mystique as much as on the work:

He has reconfigured things, or our perception of them, to such an extent that DeLillo is now implied in the things themselves. While photographers and filmmakers routinely remake the world in their images of it, this is something only a few novelists (Hemingway was one) ever manage. Like Hemingway, DeLillo has imprinted his syntax on reality and — such is the blow-back reward of the Omega Point Scheme for Stylistic Distinction — become a hostage to the habit of “gyrate exaggerations” (the phrase is in The Body Artist) and the signature patterns of “demolished logic.”

Just what are we supposed to do with a new Don DeLillo novel? Like a Richard Serra sculpture, it is simply there. You look at it, or you walk around it. If somebody pays you to write a review, you read it.

Leah Hager Cohen fills us in today on Louise Erdrich’s Shadow Tag, a fictional snapshot of a bad marriage, and crosses the line to explain the correspondence between the pained marriage in the book and the real-life drama involving Erdrich and her husband Michael Dorris, who killed himself in 1997. The question of whether or not a writer’s real life is relevant to that writer’s books underlies this piece, and many will question Cohen’s decision to review fiction as biography. I think Cohen made the right decision. We read literary criticism to help us understand aspects of a work we might otherwise miss, after all, and in this case the correspondence between reality and fiction clearly helps us understand the book.

I like Amy Bloom’s book titles: Even A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, and the new Where The God of Love Hangs Out, hungrily reviewed today by Francine Du Plessix Gray. I don’t know if I’ll ever find the time to read this novel, but I’m glad I read the title.

Call me unfashionable, but I’m not as interested as I should be in Will Blythe’s coverage of a new Roberto Bolano, Monsieur Pain. Sure, I like Bolano, but the market’s been just a little saturated with his books lately. At the rate I’m going, maybe I’ll get around to reading Monsieur Pain by the year 2666.

The market for Lee Siegel’s articles on everything that’s wrong with modern culture has been saturated for a while too (in fact, it doesn’t take much to saturate this demand). I’d be interested in almost any writer’s take on the legacy of Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism, published 30 years ago, but as usual Siegel’s harumphing tone of superiority is a turnoff, and there’s something just too ironic about a columnist famous for posting comments to his own articles critiquing the culture of narcissism.

I leave you today with one more clue — a LitKicks exclusive, I believe — towards the ultimate meaning of DeLillo’s new novel (which I haven’t read, and don’t plan to). One of the main characters in Point Omega is named “Elster”. The above-linked film Game Six, based on Don DeLillo’s screenplay, concerns the 1986 Boston Red Sox and New York Mets. The backup shortstop on the 1986 New York Mets was Kevin Elster. You do the math.

2 Responses

  1. Levi:
    Just finished up the


    Just finished up the review this morning and I agree with most of your assessment. I tend to give Siegal a little more rope than you – and have to give him credit for pointing back to “The Culture of Narcissism.” Ultimately, you are right though about that thick irony.

    I’m currently reading the Erdrich – one of my favorite authors – and felt a bit uneasy about reading it after the review. However, once you slip under her spell, the other “facts” fall away. She has more storytelling ability in her little finger than DeLillo in his entirety.

    I suppose sorting out the biographical details can come after putting the book down. If ever. If it enhances understanding and/or enjoyment, fine. Perhaps she’ll never be as “important” as DeLillo but there is one thing I know:

    Like yourself, I won’t be rushing out to read “Point Omega.”


  2. SHADOW TAG, by Louise
    SHADOW TAG, by Louise Erdrich, seems like a really interesting book for married folks to read. Sometimes one does not realize whats up with a marriage until that person is gone. Would that be a cathartic experience for an author? Yes, I believe so…

    Having written a creative nonfiction memoir, myself, I may understand more easily how art imitates life. Fiction is sometimes
    very close to the real thing.

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