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DeLillo's 'Point': Surreal, Paranoid And American

Feb 18, 2010

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Don DeLillo might not be the country's most famous novelist, but it's hard to think of another U.S. author whose works are so quintessentially American. DeLillo's books have chronicled some of the nation's favorite hobbies: football (End Zone), rock 'n' roll (Great Jones Street), film (Americana). He's written some of the most stunning works to come out of America's worst modern tragedies, chronicling the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in Falling Man, and casting Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald as the main character of Libra. DeLillo is a postmodernist, which makes him, perhaps, perfectly suited to what looks to be an increasingly surreal, paranoid era in American history.

His latest novel, Point Omega, is short, but it's just as dark and unsparing as his earlier work. It's no less ambitious than White Noise, Underworld or Mao II, his masterpieces, all of which took a hard and uncomfortable look at America's evolving identity.

The novel unfolds over the space of a few weeks in a California desert, where Jim Finley, a young filmmaker, is trying to convince Richard Elster, a retired Iraq war adviser, to take part in a documentary he's planning. Elster never quite agrees, though he's happy to talk to Finley, abstractly, about his experience in the Pentagon: "Lying is necessary," Elster explains. "The state has to lie. There is no lie in war or in preparation for war that can't be defended. We went beyond this. We tried to create new realities overnight ... The reality stands, it walks, it squats. Except when it doesn't."

After several days, the two are joined by Jessie, Elster's beloved daughter, "pale and thin, mid-twenties, awkward." Jessie's presence doesn't alter the dynamic between the men, at least initially. Eventually, though, everything breaks down — their world is torn apart for reasons both vague and horrifying. DeLillo's genius here lies in what he doesn't tell the reader, what he dares us to figure out for ourselves.

It's possible to see a little bit of the author in Elster, who advises Finley at one point, "You told [your ex-wife] everything. ... It's the worst thing you can do in a marriage. Tell her everything you feel, tell her everything you do. That's why she thinks you're crazy." At no point in this slim novel is DeLillo in danger of overexplaining anything; his restraint is admirable — and increasingly rare, unfortunately — in American fiction.

Early in Point Omega, a shadowy, unnamed character notes that it's "impossible to see too much." It reads, and feels, like a warning. DeLillo has expressed a similar sentiment in nearly every novel he's written, but this novel is far from a retread: It's nothing less than DeLillo's most stunning, remarkable novel in over a decade, and one of the best of his career.

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