Monday, April 9, 2007

Don DeLillo in the New Yorker

I just read DeLillo's new story in the NYer, though it's really an excerpt from the new novel that's coming in July. Since I've read about half of Falling Man (and it's not among the books we've put in Self-Storage) it was pretty familiar. In fact, it was so familiar, I couldn't really enjoy it. In fact, I kind of hated it.

I'm a fan of Don DeLillo because I like White Noise and Libra and because he has his own thing he works hard at -- a vision. Also, he's just plain talented, and a person has to respect that. But I couldn't read Underworld because of the excerpt he published in Harper's, a story he called "Pafko at the Wall." It was about baseball, which was bad enough, but it was also incredibly self-conscious. Forget it! JRL told me Underworld was great but I didn't have the stomach for it.

It's weird, though: when I was reading the New Yorker story I kept thinking, Hm, people are going to think this is pretty hot stuff. Yep, that bit there, pretty amazing! But at the same time, the material was so tired. It could be that I just read Ken Kalfus's book, which is about a very similar subject (man is in one of the Towers, survives, and it changes his personal relationships) or it could just be in the air. Or... it could be that DeLillo's style and his reputation overwhelms his subject. I found myself thinking that I couldn't even tell if the story was good or not, because I have all this backlog of feeling about DeLillo, and about 9-11, and about New Yorker stories.

I hated the excerpt because of the telegraphic dialog, which is meant to sound like real people talking but actually sounds like fake affected literary people, and because of the easy real-life drama. And -- and here I'm crawling very carefully out on a limb -- because it feels like DeLillo has appointed himself Voice of the Nation. I'm sure he didn't mean this, but reading that story I felt like I was being told how to interpret that day in 2001, and somehow that feels wrong.

I haven't talked to anyone else who's read it yet so I'm curious what people think about it.


Meredith said...

i wasn't happy with it either and i'm a huge fan, especially of libra and white noise... i felt a little bit like the whole story was written just for the last line.

Will said...

Underworld is one my all-time favorites. The opening at the Polo Grounds is some of the best writing I've come across.