"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, April 1, 2010

DeLillo's Point Omega

The celebrated author returns with a book about a scholar, his daughter and a filmmaker out in the desert...

Don DeLillo is generally considered one of the greatest authors of the 21st century. He has written novels, short stories, plays, one screenplay and the occasional essay. But his work remains divisive. The writing itself displays the often glittering prose of say, Fitzgerald, mixed with some of the narrative and stylistic experiments of Joyce and Beckett. There is a cinematic quality to his writing that in a way links him to filmmakers like Kubrick, and some of the more literary directors like Fellini and many in the French New Wave. His novel White Noise made him a literary idol to writers like David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen and Brett Easton Ellis, and the mammoth Underworld cemented his representation as a keen observer of America, its land and cityscapes and its people. These two novels, along with Mao II and Libra, greatly increased his readership, but also raised expectations of his work and brought him out of the more underground literary atmosphere he seems to prefer; where he's free to write how he wants and not as others wish he would.

So it is with his latest novel Point Omega, a novel that again has polarized critics. But, DeLillo is writing exactly what he wants and one has to respect that. He is not catering to critical tastes.

Point Omega is technically a novella at a slim 117 pages. Well, maybe it is a novel, but who cares for such distinctions! The story begins with an unnamed character in a museum watching a silent version of Hitchcock's Psycho. (Douglas Gordon's slowed down version titled 24 Hour Psycho, to be exact). The way that DeLillo describes the goings-on of the crowd in the museum, the movie and Finley's thoughts is mesmerizing. The following piece of prose is a perfect example:

"In the time it took for Anthony Perkins to turn his head, there seemed to flow an array of ideas involving science and philosophy and nameless other things, or maybe he was seeing too much. But it was impossible to see to much. The less there was to see, the harder he looked, the more he saw. This was the point. To see what's here, finally to look and to know you're looking, to feel time passing, to be alive to what is happening in the smallest registers of motion." The characters sees an older man joined by a younger man, who turn out to be the main characters Richard Elster and Jim Finley.

DeLillo is at once describing the character's perception and ideas of the projected images of Psycho within an art museum setting, providing a window into the character's mind; but also cutting right to the heart of cinema. When the character leaves, he describes the outside world as "Light and sound, wordless monotone, an intimation of life-beyond, world-beyond, the strange bright fact that breathes and eats out there, the thing that's not the movies."

DeLillo then moves into the introduction by Jim Finley of Richard Elster, a former scholar now living in the desert, there to simply to sit and think. Finley admits that he wanted to make a movie about Elster's time in the government around the time of the invasion of Iraq, uninterrupted like Alexander Sokoruv's Russian Ark (a great movie, I highly recommend it). They are later joined by Elster's daughter Jessica.

What follows are there conversations as they make something of a family-like existence, until an event disrupts things.

Definitely pick this novel up. It's a quick and mesmerizing, like a lone firework in the American landscape.