The wisest, richest, funniest, and most moving novel in years from Don DeLillo, one of the great American novelists of our time - an ode to language, at the heart of our humanity, a meditation on death, and an embrace of life.
Jeffrey Lockhart's father, Ross, is a billionaire in his 60s with a younger wife, Artis Martineau, whose health is failing. Ross is the primary investor in a remote and secret compound where death is exquisitely controlled and bodies are preserved until a future time when biomedical advances and new technologies can return them to lives of transcendent promise. Jeff joins Ross and Artis at the compound to say "an uncertain farewell" to her as she surrenders her body.
"We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn't it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?"
These are the questions that haunt the novel and its memorable characters, and it is Ross Lockhart, most particularly, who feels a deep need to enter another dimension and awake to a new world. For his son, this is indefensible. Jeff, the book's narrator, is committed to living, to experiencing "the mingled astonishments of our time, here, on Earth".
Don DeLillo's seductive, spectacularly observed, and brilliant new novel weighs the darkness of the world - terrorism, floods, fires, famine, plague - against the beauty and humanity of everyday life, love, awe, and "the intimate touch of earth and sun".
Zero K is glorious.
©2016 Don DeLillo (P)2016 Simon & Schuster
"[Narrator Thomas] Sadoski ranges from icy to the edge of hysteria in this very effective reading.... This is a fine narration of what may be one of DeLillo's best books." (AudioFile)
DeLillo's prose is thought-provoking to the point that you're forced to pause and internalize individual sentences throughout the story. It feels like he took an episode of the Twilight Zone and turned it into a great American novel.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
"I'd never felt more human than I did when my mother lay in bed, dying. This was not the not the frailty of a man who is said to be 'only human,' subject to weakness or vulnerability. This was a wave of sadness and loss that made me understand that I was a man expanded by grief."
― Don DeLillo, Zero K
I first jumped into DeLillo's unique, hypnotic prose when I read Mao II. His prose swelled for me like a sacred mantra. There were other writers before that seduced me, that blew me away with their measured prose, or their erratic narration, but DeLillo was something else. His prose is poetic, weird, haunting, searing. Images grow and then dematerialize. He hints at the future, creates a fabric of tension, and pulls back. Each of his books seems to push towards a vision of our end. He looks at the refuse of civilization, the excesses of capitalism, "the end zone of ancient time". He is a dark worm, pushing through the dirt and the grime and the dark caverns created by our existential rot.
He is obsesses over words, descriptions, names. He is a prose prophet for a technological age. He doesn't always hit it out of the park (dare I call those Pafkos?). Many of his more recent books: Cosmopolis, Point Omega, The Body Artist didn't seem to live up to the expectations created by Mao II, White Noise, Libra, Underworld. His five novels from the Names (1982) to Underworld (1997) seems only equaled by Philip Roth's series of five novels from Operation Shylock: A Confession (1993) to The Human Stain (2000).
The last couple books DeLillo delivered seemed to be experimentations, theories, unfinished paintings that hint at the ground DeLillo loves (technology, paranoia, death, history, humanity, religion). With this novel, DeLillo seems to have perhaps not jumped up to his highest shelf. (See MII, WN, L, U), but close. This is a book that belongs next to Falling Man, End Zone, Americana*, the Names*.
I don't want to give too much of the book away, but as I read this unsettling novel, I kept on thinking of modern-day technology pharaohs. My brother and I were having a conversation the other day about how the life of a millionaire and a billionaire isn't that different. There is just so many things you can literally buy. Even when they are buying expensive shirts and pants the styles and cuts for those worth $100M and those worth $100B aren't going to be THAT different. Yes, the billionaire might own an Island instead of just a home, but ultimately, the billionaire can't live in more than one home at a time. The millionaire might be able to buy $4000 pants when you and I can only, rationally, expect to buy pants in the $40 - $140 range. However, the billionaire isn't able to just add a couple zeros to the millionaire's pants. There is no market for $40,000 pants. So, the average $B$ lives about like the average $M$, except in a couple small ways.
Death, or the desire to escape death, may be one of those places where only those with significant, GDP-sized capital, can tread. Thus those with wealth that involves 9+zeros become the modern-day pharaohs of death. They are the only ones with the capacity to fight against the dying of the light with money, medicine, and technology. Money absolutely has become their god, and perhaps in 10, 15, or 20 years their GOD might actually deliver them from death. Instead of pyramids of stone, we might see pyramids of stainless steel and ice. Frozen mummies surrounded by bytes instead of jewelry and gold, these modern-day pharaohs may one-day-soon be waited on by high-priests with PhDs in computers science; the ceremonies and rituals of religion will be replaced with a transhumanist incantations and rites.
But when our modern-day pharaoh's side-step death, what does that exactly mean as far as life? That is the territory of DeLillo. Listen to his prose prayers, and prepare yourself for salvation, death, and perhaps even eternal life.
* I'm going here by reputation not experience since I have yet to read these two.
Just not feeling this story. The characters seem almost as cold as the title and it's hard for me to feel anything for them. For a book in which the main theme is preserving life in order to live beyond one's natural life, the author doesn't take the time to show the beauty of their lives in the first place, so that when we lose these characters to death or to the procedure, it's hard to feel any sense of loss or sadness.
This is not a traditional fiction book. You will not find a clear plot, a conclusion, and character development here. The main character seemingly progresses through haphazard settings and has disconnected internal ramblings. The significance of any of it will not be put on a plate for you. You will have to see what it means for you, and it may not mean the same to everyone.
This is a book you read to appreciate moment by moment, to enjoy the senses and feelings it raises in you, and to contemplate the ideas and thoughts it provokes. If you are into that kind of thing, I think you will find this book to be the work of a genius.
Don's writing reminded me of Cormac McCarthy in that almost-poetic-stream-of-consciousness vein. Beautiful phrases that coalesce in and around some heady topics.
Unfortunately, the prose isn't enough to carry the lengthy character development which is unfortunate, because I kept waiting for the plot to me. (Spoiler: it didn't)
I think this doesn't measure up to earlier novels by DeLillo, but it's a very, very good book. It's still often as distantly analytical and chilled as is typical for him, but god it's sad.
I enjoyed the narration of this book. I had to pose from time to time and say Wow something to think about.
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