Thursday, February 11, 2010

Point Omega by Don Delillo

So I get an email this morning from a librarian friend who tells me that she is holding a copy of Don Delillo's new novel, Point Omega, for me. She said, since she knew that Delillo is a hero of mine, that I probably already owned it, but she wanted to reserve a copy for me just in case. Bless her hot little heart.

I actually hadn't purchased Point Omega yet, so I rushed down and checked it out. My friend wasn't available for pleasantries when I got to the library, which was just as well, since all I wanted to do was get back home and start reading.

I have just now finished my second read-through of Point Omega, and this slim, oblique little tale has not disappointed. It's amazing.

Delillo opens with one of his trademark set-pieces, this one an art installation that involves the Hitchcock movie, "Psycho". And here Delillo is at his cogitative best, following a nameless character who immerses himself in the exhibit: "But it was impossible to see too much. The less there was to see, the harder he looked, the more he saw."

Then the narrative switches switches both location and person, as a filmmaker visits an aging intellectual at his house in California desert, hoping to convince the older man to take part in a documentary. They talk and take in their surroundings, trading aphorisms and riffing on the landscape, when the intellectual's daughter arrives, out of the blue.

As the three of them interact, what follows is a discussion on the pitfalls of abstraction and the limits of consciousness. ("Consciousness is exhausted," says the intellectual at one point.) And I use the term "discussion" rather loosely here. Delillo's dialog has always had a certain stiffness, being more concerned with rhythms and pith. Characters don't so much talk TO each other as AT each other. This is only natural from a writer who sees any form of communication as necessarily incomplete and largely impossible. The desert itself plays a significant role in this conversation, providing tone, perspective, and mute criticism to the syllogisms conjured up by the intellectual, whose professional specialty seems to be the rationalization of war.

The climax of Point Omega comes swiftly but actually occurs offstage, sending its characters reeling away from their sand castles of rationalization. ("It seemed so much dead echo now," says the narrator at this point.) Delillo closes by revisiting his opening set-piece, now made pregnant with possible (and possibly worthless) connotations.

This is a small novel, thin on incident but thick with implication. I wouldn't call it entertaining, but Point Omega is provocative, challenging its readers to question what sense can be made (if any) of what happens between its covers. And that may be Delillo's point, after all. The man can sure turn a sentence, though.

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