DeLillo gets to the Point

February 4, 2010

If you read reviews of any of Don DeLillo’s last four novels, you are certain to find the critical buzzword “post-Underworld.” After the 1997 epic, which spoke at (great) length about the effects of nuclear proliferation and baseball, readers were given a handful of more abstract and conceptual works—The Body Artist, Cosmopolis, and Falling Man. These three texts show DeLillo taking time to inspect everything a little more closely, a tendency that has culminated with the slow roll of his latest novel, Point Omega. Despite the absence of any form of conventional plot progression, the 117 page novella showcases DeLillo’s well-honed ability to work freely within space and time.

This hardcover may be packaged as an Iraq War story, but in a text barely over 100 pages, only about eight of those pages mention the topic directly. Rather, the focus is on war architect and 73-year-old reclusive intellectual, Richard Elster, and his interactions with the narrator, filmmaker Jim Finley.

Thirty-something and lacking any real accomplishments, Jim sets out for the desert to track down Elster in the hopes of filming a continuous one-shot documentary of “Just a man and a wall.” Although he never succeeds in filming the documentary, Jim’s intentions are accomplished in the text itself as DeLillo presents an unflinching view of his characters—just two men against the wall of Elster’s desert home.

The bare setting’s empty scenery reflects the mental psyche of the character that lives within. The novella is laced with conversations that focus on the depth of knowledge and it’s relation to time. Every other page has the chance for dialogue that incites the mix of simultaneous bewilderment and complex enlightenment that only DeLillo knows how to provoke so well.

Enter Jessie, Elster’s daughter and the only source of plot activity in the novel. Without her entrance, the text exists as two men, a bottle of whiskey, and good conversation. Her lack of depth as a character betrays DeLillo’s intentions behind her creation, merely to force a change of pace.

Point Omega is best summarized as a discussion of intellect between a man that possesses it and a man who wishes to capture it. DeLillo creates a scenario where time slows and becomes unimportant and from that setting of timelessness emerges a text that is indulgent and challenging, spare and eloquent.

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