Don DeLillo has long been one of my favorite writers. If I had to choose a single candidate to represent The Great American Novel I would nominate Underworld without hesitation. Despite its 800 plus pages I’ve read it twice and found it as close to a masterpiece as anything I’ve ever read. Its prologue could teach more by itself than most writer’s workshops. Mao II is another near perfect novel and heavyweights like The Names, Libra, White Noise have only further cemented Don DeLillo’s reputation for me. His last few books have been disappointing when placed against the brilliance of his large catalogue but he’s earned a lifetime’s credibility that leads me to read anything he’s written with the confidence that there will be some literary reward hidden within.
Point Omega is more of a literary sketch than a fully fleshed out novel. In that sense it is fitting that its subject is a pair of experiments; a video installation at the MoMA that has slowed Hitchcock’s Psycho down so that it stretches across 24 hours and the US government’s hiring of a noted intellectual to bring a level of abstract thought to the blueprinted reality of the Iraq war. There is also a filmmaker and his pitch to make an uncut, single shot film of the intellectual talking in an empty room about this experience. It provides a platform for many of DeLillo’s common themes and ideas about modern life including disconnection, the speed of life, the objectivity of war as well as ideas as simple or complex as thought and perception. There are long stretches of the narrative that serve no other purpose than a forum for DeLillo to showcase his incredible craftsmanship and breadth of ideas.
The true life is not reducible to words spoken or written, not by anyone, ever. The true life takes place when we’re alone, thinking, feeling, lost in memory, dreamingly self-aware, the submicroscopic moments. He said this more than once, Elster did, in more than one way. His life happened, he said, when he sat staring at a blank wall, thinking about dinner.
An eight-hundred page biography is nothing more than dead conjecture, he said.
I almost believed him when he said such things. He said we do this all the time, all of us, we become ourselves beneath the running thoughts and dim images, wondering idly when we’ll die. This is how we live and think whether we know it or not. These are the unsorted thoughts we have looking out the train window, small dull smears of meditative panic.
Much of the novel’s dialogue is not belieavable in any real setting and may have been better suited to a theater stage where such forays are not only accepted but expected. However when they produce results like this their value is hard to argue with.
“Human perception is a saga of created reality. But we were devising entities beyond the agreed-upon limits of recognition or interpretation. Lying is necessary. The state has to lie. There is no lie in war or in preparation for war that can’t be defended. We went beyond this. We tried to create new realities overnight, careful sets of words that resemble advertising slogans in memorability and repeatability. These were words that would yield pictures eventually and then become three dimensional. The reality stands, it walks, it squats. Except when it doesn’t.”
Point Omega operates on the highest level of idea and construction. However a book so concerned with thought itself is bound to become blurry and a search for meaning within the brief and fleeting plot points ends up feeling like a search through a dense fog with little more than a toy flashlight. I’m more convinced than ever of Mr. DeLillo’s genius but his subtraction of plot in many of his most recent offerings has made me much more interested in exploring his past work than eager to read what might come next.