delillo-donI re-read Don DeLillo’s novel The Names earlier this summer partly as research for a writing project of my own but also because it had been too long since I revisited DeLillo in his prime. While I’ve always found something to like in his recent efforts (Point Omega, Falling Man) they simply don’t have the staggering impact of his earlier work. Written in 1982, The Names is incredibly prescient in its depiction of a global community growing increasingly tumultuous and suspicious of America’s profiteering, strong-arm presence in their backyards. The expression of this dissent often takes the form of small-scale violence that echoes onto the bigger world stage as a temperature gauge for a collective mood. There have always been complaints about DeLillo’s highbrow dialogue, and it’s hard to deny, people don’t talk like that, but he’s always been an author that chases Big Ideas (caps intended) and his characters are essentially there to act in service of that goal. He’s often been accused of feeling more comfortable writing about things than people but while that may be true this novel features some of his most interesting, well-rounded and possibly most personal characters. The book also deals with the disappointments of middle-age; failed marriages, short-lived affairs, stalled jobs, questionable parenting – things that lived a lot further from my personal experience when I read it at 25 as opposed to now being the same age as the protagonist, giving me an entirely new perspective and experience with the book. I was consistently blown away by the scale and detail of his insight and there are chapters of such breathtaking literary heights that I would put them on par with the best of anything written in the 21st Century. The Names is not a summer beach read but it was a good reminder that for me Don DeLillo is still the King.

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