First published on 12 Dec 2011. Updated on 3 Jan 2012.
Don DeLillo freaks people out. The unease that haunts his characters and rattles under the happenings in his novels has a way of seemingly manifesting itself in the real world: Mao II, for example, dwelled on terrorism and the World Trade Center nearly ten years before 9/11/01. A fan will expect that persistent, eerie anticipation in DeLillo’s new short-story collection The Angel Esmeralda; as the nine stories span nearly 30 years, however, one can also witness the grander changes in tone and tactic of the author’s writing on a small scale.
Some stories involve heady contemplation of the other, some skirt tragedy, and others consider horror from a remove. After surviving an earthquake in The Ivory Acrobat, a tourist becomes obsessed with the larger quake she imagines is imminent. In Human Moments in World War III, two shuttle pilots shoot lasers at unseen targets from orbit, even as they ponder the earth’s silent beauty. Yes, it’s sci-fi, but it’s still DeLillo: The central motivation here is to ponder, not to shoot.
Two of the best stories – Creation, from 1979, and The Starveling, a story that was published just earlier this fall in Granta – both involve characters compelled to exist in the space between events. The former, about a vacationer who can’t bear to return home, is told in a dreamlike and distant prose. The latter, about a man obligated to endlessly watch movies in theaters, is more concrete, producing a hypnotic rhythm not unlike a film. The DeLillo of the past reported longing and unease; the DeLillo of the new century draws readers into his characters’ strange and effervescent bardos.
Picador, Hardback RRP $29.99