Author Topic: Don Delillo  (Read 757 times)

buttgammon

  • You can't trust a man what's made of gas
Don Delillo
« on: November 27, 2018, 12:47:13 PM »
Are there any fans here? I've been a big fan for a long time, and have read most of his books, with a few exceptions. I'm trying to fill in those gaps at the moment and even got a copy of Ratner's Star recently. I read Americana years ago and was convinced his early work wasn't particularly interesting, but then I read the wonderful Great Jones Street and put that idea to bed.

I'm currently re-reading Underworld, which I always thought of as an overrated, bloated book that was too much of a concerted effort at writing the Great American Novel. It is too long, but I'm happy to say I've been proven wrong on most of those counts. It's something approaching a history of American life through the Cold War, crisscrossing America and weaving together themes as diverse as baseball, nuclear weapons and domestic life to make an enormous tapestry. It also happens to be beautifully written, and full of brilliant little passages and descriptions, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has the time to take on an 800 page brick of a novel.

Large Noise

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Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2018, 01:27:19 PM »
Read Point Omega and quite liked it, 

Currently stalled on White Noise, partly because I find fiction concerned with terminal illnesses quite tough to get through.

QDRPHNC

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Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #2 on: November 27, 2018, 03:23:54 PM »
Yes. Underworld, Point Omega, Nemesis, he's brilliant. I will echo your praise of Underworld, it is big, but not bloated, and as good a place as any to dive into his work.

Pingers

  • With the ill behaviour
Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2018, 05:32:17 PM »
Delillo - now you're talking, mate. I really liked White Noise, an entertaining yet poignant take on what is Wrong With America, which is a subject that invites trite, lazy writing but which Delillo is up to managing with wit and wisdom.

The Body Artist though, what a book. The first segment of that, the breakfast scene described in such touching and human detail, is - and I'm going to stick my neck right out here - the most skillful piece of fiction writing I've read. I felt elated having read it, and like I'd been given the gift and privilege of sharing an intimate moment with two people previously unknown to me. I haven't yet read Underworld but know I will at some point, it's good to have things to look forward to.

All Surrogate

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Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #4 on: November 27, 2018, 07:52:10 PM »
... Theatrical Director.

buttgammon

  • You can't trust a man what's made of gas
Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2018, 10:43:30 AM »
Glad to see Point Omega mentioned - that's probably the best of his late (post-September 11th) novels. For a big New York writer who I strongly associate with writing about cities, he doesn't half write well about the desert.

Delillo - now you're talking, mate. I really liked White Noise, an entertaining yet poignant take on what is Wrong With America, which is a subject that invites trite, lazy writing but which Delillo is up to managing with wit and wisdom.

I think this is exactly what I love about Delillo. His subject matter is often the stuff that becomes so cliched in the hands of other writers, but he always turns it into something much more original. Even if we take Underworld as a big brick-like book that spans American history, in anyone else's hands (with the exception of Thomas Pynchon), that would be some dull stab at the Great American Novel

Captain Crunch

  • Twister, Dustbuster, Hospital Bed
Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2018, 11:08:21 AM »
some dull stab at the Great American Novel

That’s exactly how I found it.  There are a lot of very beautiful passages and a delicate pieces exploring feelings but most of it was just a slog for me.  The thing that really bothered me was the connections running through, I just don’t see that sort of thing as being skilful.  So he’s in a diner and the waitress is pregnant and then – gasp – thirty years later that unborn baby is now sitting in that man’s office being interviewed for a job as a paper seller.  So what?  It just doesn’t do anything for me. 

buttgammon

  • You can't trust a man what's made of gas
Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #7 on: November 28, 2018, 12:16:47 PM »
That’s exactly how I found it.  There are a lot of very beautiful passages and a delicate pieces exploring feelings but most of it was just a slog for me.  The thing that really bothered me was the connections running through, I just don’t see that sort of thing as being skilful.  So he’s in a diner and the waitress is pregnant and then – gasp – thirty years later that unborn baby is now sitting in that man’s office being interviewed for a job as a paper seller.  So what?  It just doesn’t do anything for me. 

That's kind of what it felt like for me the first time round but it makes more sense now. I'm not saying go and read it again, as that could be an enormous waste of time with a novel of this length but in my case, it has definitely benefited from reading again with hindsight.

Pingers

  • With the ill behaviour
Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #8 on: November 28, 2018, 06:27:27 PM »

I think this is exactly what I love about Delillo. His subject matter is often the stuff that becomes so cliched in the hands of other writers, but he always turns it into something much more original. Even if we take Underworld as a big brick-like book that spans American history, in anyone else's hands (with the exception of Thomas Pynchon), that would be some dull stab at the Great American Novel

I was waiting for someone to mention Pynchon. Some of Delillo's stuff has that same deliriousness of Pynchon. When the Nobel committee passed over Delillo and gave Bob Dylan the literature award it was almost a homage to Delillo, a wink and a nod to say "You won it really", because it was exactly the kind of bitter farce he might have come up with himself.

buttgammon

  • You can't trust a man what's made of gas
Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #9 on: November 28, 2018, 11:37:52 PM »
I was waiting for someone to mention Pynchon. Some of Delillo's stuff has that same deliriousness of Pynchon. When the Nobel committee passed over Delillo and gave Bob Dylan the literature award it was almost a homage to Delillo, a wink and a nod to say "You won it really", because it was exactly the kind of bitter farce he might have come up with himself.

Haha! I had Delillo earmarked to win that year and was telling everybody they were "due an American" and he was the likely candidate, so I was pretty miffed when he didn't. It's proof that we're living in Delillo's world, though.

Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #10 on: November 29, 2018, 01:23:53 AM »
I really disliked White Noise when I read it (ten years ago, mind), and that's probably the strongest feeling I've ever had of been completely baffled by the critical praise for an author. So baffled that I really started to think that "literary culture" wasn't really for me...

All a blur now, but I think it felt like satire that wasn't really accurate, fair or original in its targets. Any specifics have since been forgotten, but I read Infinite Jest around the same time, and the two have merged a bit in my head as two novels that attack a straw man version of the crassest elements of US culture.


Genuinely intrigued by the praise above though, I do have a copy of Underworld that I've never looked at, so I'll give it a try!

Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #11 on: November 29, 2018, 01:26:02 AM »
That’s exactly how I found it.  There are a lot of very beautiful passages and a delicate pieces exploring feelings but most of it was just a slog for me. 

That sounds just like Saul Bellow's Humboldt's Gift, another G.A.N. attempt with astonishing bits of lyrical rapture floating about in a very turgid plot.

Pingers

  • With the ill behaviour
Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #12 on: November 29, 2018, 08:55:22 AM »
I really disliked White Noise when I read it (ten years ago, mind), and that's probably the strongest feeling I've ever had of been completely baffled by the critical praise for an author. So baffled that I really started to think that "literary culture" wasn't really for me...

All a blur now, but I think it felt like satire that wasn't really accurate, fair or original in its targets. Any specifics have since been forgotten, but I read Infinite Jest around the same time, and the two have merged a bit in my head as two novels that attack a straw man version of the crassest elements of US culture.


Genuinely intrigued by the praise above though, I do have a copy of Underworld that I've never looked at, so I'll give it a try!

I read it as not so much a satire, more a lament: "Look at us". Although I guess those two things are quite close to each other

Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #13 on: November 29, 2018, 03:55:52 PM »
Is there a good Delillo to start with for someone who hasn't read him? I have White Noise and Underworld, just never got round to them

Large Noise

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Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #14 on: November 29, 2018, 04:36:18 PM »
Is there a good Delillo to start with for someone who hasn't read him? I have White Noise and Underworld, just never got round to them
White Noise is very readable. Like I say, I put it down because of the subject matter, but in terms of the prose itself you can rattle through it no problem. It's nothing like Pynchon in that regard.

Doomy Dwyer

  • No more to say and nothing to weep for
Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #15 on: November 29, 2018, 07:12:18 PM »
I’d start with Libra, his fictionalised account of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald. In many ways it’s the most un-Delillo novel of his I’ve read. But it couldn’t have been written by anyone else. Players is also a good early work, the seeds for Mao II are here. I think. It’s been years since I’ve read it. Or Mao II for that matter. Christ, this recommendation is worthless. But Players has the whole shadowy forces, layers upon layers, lives determined by outside agencies, outside agencies not being what they seem, dizzying paranoid claustrophobia, existential blankness and weird distancing thing that he does so well going on. And its rather short but perfectly formed. Running Dog I remember being slightly disappointing but it does concern itself with the whereabouts of a pornographic film shot in Hitler's bunker and featuring the Der Führer himself during the death throes of the Third Reich. There's a cabal of underground black marketeers who specialise in outre erotica and who will stop at nothing to secure this historical wank fodder. The cabal are, naturally, shadowy. It doesn't sound slightly disappointing when summarised as well as that, does it? But it is. Slightly.

The run of form from White Noise to Underworld is frankly fucking staggering. I’ve got a feeling you could add The Names to that list, too. I’ve got it but haven’t read it yet. I’ll have to let you know. Underworld is so good that I don’t really want to read anything more by him. It’s not going to get any better. I re-read it recently and it’s just sickeningly good writing. Fuck all that Great American Novel bullshit, it’s just a great fucking novel. Forgive my strong language. I am a man of passion. Is it the last Great Novel? Having not read any of Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic cycle of interlinked novels I wouldn’t be so rash as to offer an opinion. But it certainly spelled the end of something important. Infinite Jest was out just the year previously. It was as if we were getting close to something there. And then… and then… suddenly here we were.
   

buttgammon

  • You can't trust a man what's made of gas
Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #16 on: November 30, 2018, 11:49:36 AM »
The run of form from White Noise to Underworld is frankly fucking staggering. I’ve got a feeling you could add The Names to that list, too. I’ve got it but haven’t read it yet. I’ll have to let you know. Underworld is so good that I don’t really want to read anything more by him.


Yeah, I'd pinpoint The Names as the start of that run of form that ends with Underworld. In other words, all of his 80s and 90s stuff is brilliant.

As for a starting place, I can't offer anything better than White Noise, but his short story collection The Angel Esmeralda is a good route in too, not least it gives a good overview of his career, as the stories have been written over the period of forty or fifty years, so you can really see him develop in style and subject matter.

Doomy Dwyer

  • No more to say and nothing to weep for
Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #17 on: November 30, 2018, 08:06:48 PM »
Yeah, you cant go wrong with White Noise, Delillo in excelsis in many ways. An extremely funny and prescient satire on the way we were and the way we would go on to be. And an airborne toxic event. Perhaps prescient is the wrong word, as the things he predicted were already happening, but he pulled them into ruthless focus, joined the dots, made the connections and revealed the pattern. Three cliches in a row, there. Possibly four.

On the subject of post Underworld Delillo, I've picked up a copy of Cosmopolis from the British Heart Foundation purely because it's in immaculate condition and was only £1.50. It sounds dreadful, like that Ian McEwan monstrosity that I've never read, never would, but fucking hate. Saturday. Piece of shit. It can't, surely, be that bad though? Not Don?  It has a rappers funeral in it. Now, I don't like fiction that features rock stars, which I'll use as a blanket term to include the rappers in this instance. It's like party or sport scenes in films. Always awful. Piss poor, inauthentic and embarrassing. I'll make an exception for Hellfire by Nick Tosches, although that professes to be a biography. It isn't, it's a novel, Tosches, and you know it. And a very good one. Back to Don - My interest was piqued by his last novel though, Zero K. Has anyone read it? I like books about freezing billionaires. Freeze the fucking lot of them, I say. 

I've never read any of his short stories, but I think I shall.

Pingers

  • With the ill behaviour
Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #18 on: November 30, 2018, 08:44:02 PM »
^ Please, more of this sort of thing in this forum!

buttgammon

  • You can't trust a man what's made of gas
Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #19 on: November 30, 2018, 08:57:37 PM »
On the subject of post Underworld Delillo, I've picked up a copy of Cosmopolis from the British Heart Foundation purely because it's in immaculate condition and was only £1.50. It sounds dreadful, like that Ian McEwan monstrosity that I've never read, never would, but fucking hate. Saturday. Piece of shit. It can't, surely, be that bad though? Not Don?  It has a rappers funeral in it. Now, I don't like fiction that features rock stars, which I'll use as a blanket term to include the rappers in this instance. It's like party or sport scenes in films. Always awful. Piss poor, inauthentic and embarrassing. I'll make an exception for Hellfire by Nick Tosches, although that professes to be a biography. It isn't, it's a novel, Tosches, and you know it. And a very good one. Back to Don - My interest was piqued by his last novel though, Zero K. Has anyone read it? I like books about freezing billionaires. Freeze the fucking lot of them, I say. 

Cosmopolis got very bad reviews when it came out but I actually quite like it; it's aged surprisingly well. It was his first post-9/11 novel and a lot of people were disappointed that it was set in 2000 and therefore, seemed to depict a completely dead world, but the finance theme returned with a vengeance with the 2008 crash, and a lot of people reassessed it. It still seems a pretty fresh depiction of that financial world. It's not his best novel and some parts are cringeworthy (particularly the aforementioned rapper's funeral and - worst of all - his attempt at incorporating some of the rapper's lyrics) but it's still worth a read. Point Omega and Falling Man are stronger books from his later period, though.

I had mixed feelings about Zero K but will give it another go soon. I'm writing about Delillo as the lesser part of my PhD, so I'm revisiting all of the stuff I've previously read while also filling in the gaps in my collection. Although I only read it two years ago, Zero K is one I'm particularly eager to revisit, as I have a feeling it might click on re-reading.

Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #20 on: November 30, 2018, 09:06:10 PM »
^ Please, more of this sort of thing in this forum!

seconded. lots of really interesting contributions all round in this thread as well. top stuff

Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #21 on: December 05, 2018, 10:24:28 PM »
I SAW LOVE LIES BLEEDING. FUCKING SHITE.

buttgammon

  • You can't trust a man what's made of gas
Re: Don Delillo
« Reply #22 on: December 06, 2018, 12:21:22 AM »
There's an old BBC documentary about Delillo on Youtube. Aside from my first thoughts about how sad it is that you'd never see something like this on BBC One today, I couldn't help but think his voice doesn't suit him somehow. I don't think I'd heard him speak before, and it really isn't what I imagined.