The Body Artist

Another puzzle of a Don DeLillo book. A book of quites and not-quites, of things and almost-things, of half-things and not-things. A book of uncertainty, absence, presence, of mourning, of time passing, and of death obliquely. The book plays and replays. This on page 35:

“She threw off a grubby sweater. She raised her arm out of the sweater and struck her hand lightly on something above, wondering what it was, although this had happened before, and then she remembered the hanging lamp, metal shade wobbling, the lamp that was totally wrong for the room, and she turned toward the bed and looked, half looked, not looked in expectation but something else – a meaning so thin she could not read it.

And this 87 pages later, on page 122:

“Once she steps into the room, she will already have been there, now, at night, getting undressed. It is a question of fitting herself to the moment, throwing off a grubby sweater, her back to the bed. She stands barefoot, raising her arm out of the sweater and striking a hand on something above. She remembers the hanging lamp, totally wrong for the room, metal shade wobbling, and then turns and looks, knowing what she will see.”

Past tense becomes present; threw becomes throwing, remembered becomes remembers. As if things have gone backwards.

Maybe this is all about writing somehow; about voice and understanding. On page 50 there is a paragraph which could be Don describing how someone reads him:

“He talked. After a while she began to understand what she was hearing. It took many levels of perception. It took whole social histories of how people listen to what other people say. There was a peculiarity in his voice, a trait developing even as he spoke, that she was able to follow to its source.”

Ah, the deeply satisfying subtleties and complexities of a Don DeLillo book.


October 2011