Category: Don DeLillo

book review – Cosmopolis – Don De Lillo


The mistake with this book was to treat the story of the millionaire young executive obsessed with his own mortality and assuaging his desires as a literal one. When it was pointed out that this was science fiction then things improved dramatically.

Because although set in New York you weren’t looking for a date and time reference. This could be now or it could be in ten years but the fundamental questions will remain intact. Those questions evolve around the character of Eric Packer but are to do with the question of the morality of making large amounts of money without a regard for anyone or anything and to do with the fear of death. On the money front Packer spends the book destroying his company as he bets all against a fluctuation in the Yen that he is wrong about. He keeps backing his judgment dragging millions of value out of his empire until by the end he is worth almost nothing. He is determined to push everything including the line between right and wrong and life and death shooting one of his body guards for no apparent reason.

But as he tours round New York in the back of a limousine there are other questions about the distance between the rich and the poor. The odd and the normal. Packer has a daily check up from his doctor and as he sets out to get a haircut he is reminded of his humble origins, craving for sex and his loveless marriage. But as he starts to lose everything he starts to discover that he is not some sort of financial god. He also sobers up pretty quickly when faced with the threat that has been dogging him from the start, a bitter ex-employee who is out for revenge.

What makes this short story work is that De Lillo is packing a great deal in with anti-capitalism riots, thoughts about marriage and the big one a view about the consequences of the super rich using their money to change the universe. The patterns that Packer thinks he can see are just not there when it really matters and it is with some shock he has to acknowledge that things can be random, asymmetrical.

Reading this in the midst of the credit crunch is bizarre because it to a degree people like Packer got us into this mess. The belief that somehow individuals could master the entire economic system created some of the conditions we are now living with. In Packer that arrogance is taken to an extreme and not only does he believe he can control the fate and direction of national currencies but he can live as he wishes with impunity. When fear comes it is almost amusing to a man who has so lost touch with normal human emotions that he seems unable to register what is happening unless it comes through a ticker on a TV screen in his limousine.

Although he couldn’t have possibly known it De Lillo has created a book that has its moment right now and in Packer a figure for these times.

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book review – Cosmopolis – Don De Lillo


The mistake with this book was to treat the story of the millionaire young executive obsessed with his own mortality and assuaging his desires as a literal one. When it was pointed out that this was science fiction then things improved dramatically.

Because although set in New York you weren’t looking for a date and time reference. This could be now or it could be in ten years but the fundamental questions will remain intact. Those questions evolve around the character of Eric Packer but are to do with the question of the morality of making large amounts of money without a regard for anyone or anything and to do with the fear of death. On the money front Packer spends the book destroying his company as he bets all against a fluctuation in the Yen that he is wrong about. He keeps backing his judgment dragging millions of value out of his empire until by the end he is worth almost nothing. He is determined to push everything including the line between right and wrong and life and death shooting one of his body guards for no apparent reason.

But as he tours round New York in the back of a limousine there are other questions about the distance between the rich and the poor. The odd and the normal. Packer has a daily check up from his doctor and as he sets out to get a haircut he is reminded of his humble origins, craving for sex and his loveless marriage. But as he starts to lose everything he starts to discover that he is not some sort of financial god. He also sobers up pretty quickly when faced with the threat that has been dogging him from the start, a bitter ex-employee who is out for revenge.

What makes this short story work is that De Lillo is packing a great deal in with anti-capitalism riots, thoughts about marriage and the big one a view about the consequences of the super rich using their money to change the universe. The patterns that Packer thinks he can see are just not there when it really matters and it is with some shock he has to acknowledge that things can be random, asymmetrical.

Reading this in the midst of the credit crunch is bizarre because it to a degree people like Packer got us into this mess. The belief that somehow individuals could master the entire economic system created some of the conditions we are now living with. In Packer that arrogance is taken to an extreme and not only does he believe he can control the fate and direction of national currencies but he can live as he wishes with impunity. When fear comes it is almost amusing to a man who has so lost touch with normal human emotions that he seems unable to register what is happening unless it comes through a ticker on a TV screen in his limousine.

Although he couldn’t have possibly known it De Lillo has created a book that has its moment right now and in Packer a figure for these times.

book review – The Falling Man – Don De Lillo


If one of the roles of fiction is to relate to the times and provide a reaction to events that causes you to pause and think then taking on the tragic and terrible events of the Twin Towers is a tall order for any writer.

In the main part Don De Lillo pulls it off because he manages to convey all of the emotions you would expect with anger, confusion, regret and ongoing grief all on display here. Where things get interesting is the way that those emotions are not necessarily shown by the characters you would expect. So for instance you get the wife who had to wait for her husband to walk out of the towers alive showing more ongoing anger than he does and you get some of the very minor players in the story having some of the most profound reactions walking out on executive positions to start poker careers as an example.

The main trio of characters is Keith a survivor of the attacks, Lianne his estranged wife and their sun Justin. Taking the son first he struggles to come to terms with the attacks watching from his friend’s window for planes that are going to make a repeat performance. They have an almost childlike secrecy around their fears but they voice the thoughts of many adults.

Lianne becomes pivotal to opening up the themes of how the individual and the collective react and remember terrorist violence. She deals with Alzheimer patients struggling to recall even the most basic details of their lives and wonders herself what she thinks of everything that has happened. She loses her temper and becomes fixated on a performance from a physical artist known as the falling man.

Readers will know that the falling man is of course a reference to those that fell from the burning towers to their deaths but even here it is as if De Lillo is challenging you to establish boundaries. What is your reaction to the falling man act that drops from buildings to remain suspended just feet above the ground? What are your thoughts about those who had to make the decision to jump to certain death?

Meanwhile Keith, one of the few characters in the book directly set in the towers during the attack, seems to drift back into family life then out again touring the world playing poker. He has lost his certainty and his life remains impacted by terrorism years after the event.

But De Lillo is also challenging the reader on the debate about terrorism itself with a character that has links in the past to terrorism in Germany. The sketched figure of Martin, Lianne’s mother’s boyfriend, raises the question around acceptable forms of terrorism. If he was fighting a corrupt state and an oppressive regime in the 1960s then doesn’t that same sense of being right exist for those fighting what they see as a corrupt regime now?

The only minor criticism is the way that the characters often feel sketched and it is not until you read more De Lillo you start to appreciate this is his style. In a way the people you meet on the page are metaphors for larger debates.

Still in terms of pulling together a story that encapsulates the feelings that terrorism can provoke this is a heavyweight work and one that shows the power of fiction to tackle and describe the almost unspeakable pain and terror of the Twin Tower attacks.

book review – The Falling Man – Don De Lillo


If one of the roles of fiction is to relate to the times and provide a reaction to events that causes you to pause and think then taking on the tragic and terrible events of the Twin Towers is a tall order for any writer.

In the main part Don De Lillo pulls it off because he manages to convey all of the emotions you would expect with anger, confusion, regret and ongoing grief all on display here. Where things get interesting is the way that those emotions are not necessarily shown by the characters you would expect. So for instance you get the wife who had to wait for her husband to walk out of the towers alive showing more ongoing anger than he does and you get some of the very minor players in the story having some of the most profound reactions walking out on executive positions to start poker careers as an example.

The main trio of characters is Keith a survivor of the attacks, Lianne his estranged wife and their sun Justin. Taking the son first he struggles to come to terms with the attacks watching from his friend’s window for planes that are going to make a repeat performance. They have an almost childlike secrecy around their fears but they voice the thoughts of many adults.

Lianne becomes pivotal to opening up the themes of how the individual and the collective react and remember terrorist violence. She deals with Alzheimer patients struggling to recall even the most basic details of their lives and wonders herself what she thinks of everything that has happened. She loses her temper and becomes fixated on a performance from a physical artist known as the falling man.

Readers will know that the falling man is of course a reference to those that fell from the burning towers to their deaths but even here it is as if De Lillo is challenging you to establish boundaries. What is your reaction to the falling man act that drops from buildings to remain suspended just feet above the ground? What are your thoughts about those who had to make the decision to jump to certain death?

Meanwhile Keith, one of the few characters in the book directly set in the towers during the attack, seems to drift back into family life then out again touring the world playing poker. He has lost his certainty and his life remains impacted by terrorism years after the event.

But De Lillo is also challenging the reader on the debate about terrorism itself with a character that has links in the past to terrorism in Germany. The sketched figure of Martin, Lianne’s mother’s boyfriend, raises the question around acceptable forms of terrorism. If he was fighting a corrupt state and an oppressive regime in the 1960s then doesn’t that same sense of being right exist for those fighting what they see as a corrupt regime now?

The only minor criticism is the way that the characters often feel sketched and it is not until you read more De Lillo you start to appreciate this is his style. In a way the people you meet on the page are metaphors for larger debates.

Still in terms of pulling together a story that encapsulates the feelings that terrorism can provoke this is a heavyweight work and one that shows the power of fiction to tackle and describe the almost unspeakable pain and terror of the Twin Tower attacks.

Cosmopolis – post II

Once I started to treat this as science fiction (thanks Brandon for that advice) with out a desperate search for hooks of reality I could hang the narrative from it became a lot more enjoyable. The movement towards the climax becomes a series of episodes that raise the debate about capitalism and mortality.

Eric Packer in some respects reminds you of the characters in Falling Man in the sense that he is sketched out with enough back story to make it work but not the sort of chapter and verse that 19th century literature likes to go in for. As a result you read with a certain degree of detachment and can take in the story as a neutral observer rather than a reader that has invested in the life of a character.

The thoughts that yoiu are left with after this book are about the irony that even those you depose can have good advice and the feeling that those at the top of the capitalist tree can easily fall to the ground and once again become ordinary. If anything they are even more ordinary than the rest of us who have normal lives and it is the trappings of success that make them seem different.

A review will follow soon…

Cosmopolis – post I

After reading the Falling Man you start to become immersed in the DeLillo style. That style uses characters that are not particularly deep but stand for something larger than themselves as a way of making statements.

Key to this is Eric Packer, a 28 year old multi-millionaire who has made a fortune through the stock market and now glides through the streets of Manhattan in a limousine surrounded by body guards.

He displays a fear of death with his daily doctor appointments yet seems to seek out the adrenalin that comes from knowing his life is in danger. He searches for answers from his colleagues yet he is never really listening. He craves sex yet is unable to get it from his wife.

There are more contradictions but one of the most obvious is the gap between the rich and the poor. It emerges that an ex employee is planning to kill Eric after being dismissed from Packer Enterprises and the boom is building towards that confrontation.

In some respects it reminds you of Saturday by Ian McEwen because it is telling a story of one individual on one day but the sense of time is not as clearly defined here.

As he glides around in his car the sense of real life, where people work in offices and go for lunch breaks at set times, is suspended and that adds to the disorientation.

More tomorrow…

Falling Man – post III

The sense of disorientation continues to impact the characters years after the two towers have come down with Lianne summing up the feelings of a cit. She moans at one point to her husband Keith, who was in the towers when they were attacked, about the fact she is the one who has gone berserk but she is just displaying the anger and sense of loss more visibly than he is.

The family, which is held together more by memories and habit, continues to plod on but there is a craving to get back to normal. The problem is that can anyone ever get back to normal? With the fundamentalism now out in the open and the consequences of the hatred forcing changes in behaviour it is a very substantial question that DeLillo leaves you pondering.

Although some of the characters are sketchy and some, like Martin the former German terrorist, feel shoe-horned in to challenge the argument, overall this works. The last few pages in particular are incredibly powerful.

A review will follow soon…