A Year in Books--THE BODY ARTIST
The second book in A Year of Books was THE BODY ARTIST by DON DELILLO.
Don Delillo is the type of writer that intellectuals and psuedo-intellectuals demand that you must experience--in at least some context--if you ever want to consider yourself a true fan of literature. I'd like to lead by saying that I entirely disagree with this statement. Though it is undeniable that the man can write a sentence better than almost anyone out there today. Many of Delillo's works have left a similar impression on me as films by Nicolas Winding Refn. On their surface, they are undeniable masterworks of aesthetics and mood, but I feel that under intense scrutiny, the artifice of his beautiful writing falls away and what we have is a singular repeated idea lacking any extensive commentary.
Being a millennial, I was introduced to DeLillo through David Foster Wallace's writing--in fact, Wallace often cites Delillo as a heavy influence on his style. This is immediately apparent, many chapters of DFW's work read as if written by a hyper-verbal (and hyper neurotic) version of DeLillo. Though where I find extensive depth in DFW's work, I can't find the same thing with DeLillo. This is not to say that what he writes is in anything less than remarkable (as a writer I can only hope to one day have the same painterly skill with words). I just think he's a little overblown. Though he is often critical of academia and the simulacrum of America--which is one of my favorite subjects--it lacks the same zany punch that someone like Pynchon delivers, preferring to rely on exquisitely phrased platitudes of disappointment rather than punchy satire and irony.
This leads me to the book I have just finished, "The Body Artist." Covering the sad story of a performance artist who loses her older husband, this tale explores the way we internalize relationships with other individuals within our mind, or in Lauren Hartke's case, her body. It asks what "real" means if that relationship persists even after we lose the person. To risk turning this into a discussion of film rather than literature, I have to say that the premise of this book immediately reminded me of Andrei Tarkovsky's SOLARIS, in which a sentient planet creates physical versions of your mind's representations of character's from your life. This was true so much so by the end of the book that the lead character also makes the same conscious decision to live with the memory of their loved one--and even makes that same decision while looking through a window--though DeLillo provides some ambiguity where Tarkovsky clearly demonstrates the ramifications of Kris Kelvin's drastic choice.
I enjoyed The Body Artist much more than I enjoyed his other works Cosmopolis and Libra. I think I may have his latest work, "Zero K," on deck somewhere for this whole Year in Books project, but that remains to be seen. This is a great--and short--dive into what type of writer DeLillo is, a very rich text. If you're looking to listen to those intellectuals and psuedo-intellectuals prat on about what you should and shouldn't read, this book is a great place to gain some cred.
If you're a writer, it will probably make you a better craftsman, it's hard not to think about the way in which you construct sentences when you're blasting through a 130 page barrage of sentences like, "It was the kind of day in which you forget words and drop things and wonder what it is you came into the room to get because you are standing there for a reason and you have to tell yourself it is just a question of sooner or later before you remember because you always remember once you are here." See what I mean?
It's definitely worth a read, a great writer, but not someone I'll return to frequently unless to learn some more about making my thoughts sound prettier on paper--and for that purpose I can just open to a random page in my (most likely perpetually) unfinished copy of "Underworld" and steal some phrasing. The book is also very cinematic, it makes you feel like you are watching it, which is some kind of an achievement in itself I suppose.
Still going with the banana system here, I'd say that I'd give this book a solid 3.98 bananas out of 5.
Next week I'm going to tackle the short novel Running East by Providence, RI's very own Theo Green.