The writing of Don DeLillo amazes me. I don’t say or write that often but it does.
A darling of the literary world, he may not be as well known as he should be among mainstream fiction readers. His books sell well but they aren’t sensationalistic or daring in a carnival-like attention grabbing sense.
Instead, he tends to write from the internal world, where many readers have no interest in journeying. Much like a poet, DeLillo delves deeply into the hidden revelations that are always present around us but rarely seen. His novels tend to present the world as a realm of alienation and desperation, where human experience is increasingly becoming less meaningful as technology and distance separate us from the core of our reality.
The easy way to dismiss the fact that he isn’t a household name is to say his writing isn’t for everybody. That statement does a disservice to not only the writer but also potential readers. While it may be true that the average person reads for sheer escapism, I tend to think that’s because they haven’t been taught to do anything else. Americans live in a pop culture defined by popularity and readily accessible, disposable media experiences. Pausing to think is often frowned upon, as it tends to interfere with the bottom line.
What corporations want people to start questioning the isolated aspects of suburban life and consumerism? The only time they might is when they’re marketing corporate-sponsored “rebellion” to teenagers in the forms of popular music and fashion. But adults are supposed to be discouraged from questioning their environments. Adults are supposed to muddle through life without wondering why and take the occasional break for pure escapist fun.
Nothing wrong with escapism. Human beings need to escape from time to time. What is wrong, however, is the marginalization of freedom of expression. What results after several generations of such repressiveness is the world so often portrayed in DeLillo’s work. It should come as no surprise that he was drawn to Lee Harvey Oswald’s story when he wrote “Libra.” That book was part of the basis for the Oliver Stone film, “JFK.”
There are those who feel literature should portray likable characters that make them care what happens. While it is certainly valid to want to like the subject of care, it is sometimes far more interesting to follow the exploits of someone you wouldn’t necessarily want to know in real life. A good example of this “Cosmopolis.”
Focusing on a day in he life of a self-made dot.com type billionaire, Cosmopolis is a surrealist’s foray into self-awareness and painful epiphany. As with much of DeLillo’s work, there is a pervasive disconnect between the subject and the reader. The same theme can be found in his seminal “White Noise.”
DeLillo is an acquired taste in our cookie-cutter happy ending world but one well worth investing in~
Recommended DeLillo Reading List:
The Body Artist