Saturday, May 29, 2010

Point Omega by Don DeLillo

We drove in silence behind a motorboat being towed by a black pickup. I thought of his remarks about matter and being, those long nights on the deck, half smashed, he and I, transcendence, paroxysm, the end of human consciousness. It seemed so much dead echo now. Point omega. A million years away. The omega point has narrowed, here and now, to the point of a knife as it enters a body. All the man’s grand themes funneled down the local grief, one body, out there somewhere, or not.


I realized while thinking about this review that I’ve read more DeLillo books than any other author since the Fifty Books Project started. It seems strange now that I disliked DeLillo’s abstracted, distant prose and stylized dialog, but there it is. Now, I consider him one of my favorite authors even though I’ve disliked about as many of his books as I’ve liked. DeLillo, at the best of times, is only marginally interested in plot. Libra is the only book of his I’ve read that’s even slightly plot-driven, and even his characters, as enigmatic and interesting as they can be, generally aren’t the driving force in his books. Instead, it seems to me, liking or disliking DeLillo as an author comes down to appreciating his primary themes—the disconnection of the modern man and the difficulty or impossibility of reconnecting, the absurdity of everyday life, the vapidity of consumerism, etc—and his prose. DeLillo is, hands down, one the best stylists I’ve ever read and it’s that quality that makes even his mediocre novels, like The Body Artist, interesting to me.

Point Omega
, his most recent book, certainly falls closer to The Body Artist than Libra. It reads almost like two novellas, one nested inside the other, with no clear connection between the two. In the first, titled Anonymity, an unidentified man stands in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and watches a display called 24 Hour Psycho. This exhibit, which actually exists in real life, consists of a projection screen, viewable from both sides, playing Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, slowed down so it plays through once every 24 hours. The man visits the exhibit every day and marvels at how changing the presentation changes the entire feel of the film, making each moment as banal as the last. In the second, postmodern documentarian Jim Finley travels to the middle of the California desert to film ex-Iraq War consultant Richard Elster. Things are uneventful until Elster’s daughter Jessica shows up, sent by her mother in an attempt to end her relationship with the mysterious Dennis. Circumstances change, however, when Jessica disappears, leaving behind all her possessions and sapping both Jim’s will to make the film and Elster’s will to live. The books ends by completing the story in the first section, such as it is: the unnamed man meets a mysterious woman, they discuss the film, and then leave. The only connection between the two stories is the exhibit itself—while trying to convince him to participate in his film, Jim takes Elster to see 24 Hour Psycho.

Man, this book was abstract. Jessica’s disappearance is the closest thing to a plot development in the entire novel, and even it occurs only during the last 20 pages of the second section and is barely explained at all. We (and Jim and Elster) never discover what happened. Possibilities are thrown out—lost in the woods, suicide, elopement with Dennis—but no evidence is given to weight one over the other. Much like The Body Artist, virtually all conclusions that can be drawn are equally valid, not that DeLillo had ever been particularly didactic. The themes are right there in the title and the excerpt above: the omega point is a term that describes the maximum level of complexity toward wich the universe seems to be evolving, but DeLillo seems to say that focusing on the advancement toward complexity isn’t as significant as the little moments—hence the fascination with Psycho when it’s broken down into its simplest bits, and the de-emphasis on creating the documentary once Jessica disappears. These ideas are hardly seamless, but on the whole, it makes sense to me. At a little over 100 pages, Point Omega is never particularly dull, thanks to DeLillo’s language, but it’s as stripped down as DeLillo gets, and sometimes feels a little unnecessary. At his best, DeLillo revels in complexity. I'd like to see him heading back in that direction.


Christopher said...

Hm. Is this better or worse than Cosmopolis?

Brent Waggoner said...

Worse. There isn't anything as good as the rapper funeral. The language is great, but really, there's virtually no plot.