Thursday, April 7, 2011


Don DeLillo always makes me want to forget language. Just go back to simple thoughts that aren't thoughts because they don't know the word 'thoughts.' If DeLillo were writing this it would make sense, too much sense, and there would be ongoing little jitters and cringes between characters that you recognize between books. I can't help but associate him with Dylan on the Never Ending Tour, because the books run together. Maybe this is what Li-Young Lee was talking about book with 'poetry' in Faulkner, Melville novels. Anyway, what seems the least important of all in DeLillo's books is what's going on. You try to attach yourself to what's being said and what's being thought and who's lying to you. But you forget. It's like life in that respect. You forget and then there's this undercurrent running under the words for the next few hundred pages.

I have probably mentioned here a few times or so a book called roadkill stylized in the graphic image I first got of Stephen King's Bag of Bones when I realized that it was about a writer whose wife dies. Of course the bag of bones is not his wife. King is not so cruel. I, however, know that I'm too soft on my characters (Be a sadist, suggests Father Kurt, suggests quite strongly), so I thought what the hey? And I started thinking about a novel.

Of course at this stage in my writing career I can say that I'll probably never write a successful novel. roadkill is about a guy named Mike (was it Mike? I'm not even sure where that file is saved!) who loses his wife and mother in a car accident. They get flung to the side of the road where they lie, guess the metaphor!, like roadkill. But what it's really about is Mike doing his job with the cultural resource management (CRM). Because in writing the book, the first 6? 10? pages before I stopped, I figured out that that's where Mike worked. Basically because I was a first year anthropology major and that sort of job seemed fun. Anyway, so under this grotesque title I was laying the roots for some sort of archaeology story. And then there was the specter of too many attractive, ghostly females and the fact that I still am not sure what the CRM do or how they do it and the book stalled after opening scene, flashback, sex and dialogue, then Mike goes off to work and I lost it.

Anyway. I picked up The Names about three weeks ago and dug into it. It's classic DeLillo. I'm not even sure how you recognize him, but he's blatantly recognizable. And I realized that I wanted to write this book. The narrator, James Axton, is separated from his wife who sidelines in some amateur archaeology for part of the book. Most of the book where's she's on-screen/continent, as they amount to the same in the plot. Axton is in risk analysis. He boards a lot of planes. The whole essence of both the book and movie Up in the Air, the latter one of my favorites and the former definitely an enjoyable read, are condensed in this book into 2 pages. That's DeLillo.

The place that archaeology plays in the book is exactly what I wanted in roadkill. Looking at it now, I could come up with all kinds of themes and ideas--which is good since this is a future book and not killed yet, just sleeping--but when I wrote in the job I didn't know these things. What does an archaeologist do? Well, he digs through the things left behind by dead people (for the most part). Mike has two newly dead loved ones. I think I've drawn the lines well enough.

But the most interesting part of The Names was not so much in the way that it made me feel like I wanted to have written a book called roadkill which was basically the same book just 1000X worse, but in the way that it really dug into my daily life: classes. I'm taking an anthropology-heavy workload this semester and The Names could easily have fit into class discussion in all six of my classes! The book is really about languages and letters (e.g. the name The Names) and I'm in Language and Culture; there's a cult in the book that kills people so there's some detective flush on the bodies and I'm in Skeleton Keys, a class in forensic anthropology (the cult uses a hammer at a certain point and I was a little unsettled by my professor showing us a case where a hammer was used soon thereafter); the examination into past languages and the cultures that birthed them or were born from them often took into account religious practices--the cult is questioned as to whether it has a religious purpose--and I'm in anthropology of religion; Axton's job has him flying all over Europe and the Middle East from a base in Greece and I'm taking Eastern European anthropology (the biggest stretch, I promise); the book is about writing and it's about people and anthropology somewhat and I'm in "Writing in Anthropology" (so I lied; sue me); and finally the non-anthro class I'm in, an introduction to international relations fits perfectly, because that's what Axton's job is really in, he has to judge risk in the context of INR.

Now I guess I should perhaps apologize for this myriad of a post somehow pertaining to one "topic" written at much-too-late by a blogger who's avoiding an essay he should be writing (but aren't we all?) but I won't, and will instead point out another interesting little bit in The Names. Where DeLillo uses dialogue he begins with Axton talking with (insert character here) and eventually gives us Axton speaking of that person, referring to what they said, assumed summarization and the like that you expect when the writer doesn't want to make you read through 30 pages of quotes to understand part of the story. But that's not all Don is up to. Later in The Names third person arises completely--how do you know? the character thinks about James Axton, the narrator, something you can also see in one scene at least in Ellis's Glamorama and in a few parts (I think) during the middle of King's Christine (which is beautiful, as all of King's first person/mostly first person works are)--and you are left wondering why exactly DeLillo has chosen this. Not because it seems like something we should question. But because it works and you don't know why.

A scene in the book involves the following exchange:
"You are from?"
"Where is your suitcase?"
Of course in context the American is a traveler and is in a foreign country as a tourist. I.e. it makes sense that the other person knows he has a suitcase. But as a means of closing this post, I want to ask the question of why this resonated with me. Why did it seem that, yes, all Americans should have suitcases, that when we reveal our homeland that question should be next, no matter if we are in Mexico City or Seattle. Maybe it's just the whole migration thing or the idea that we always carry more than we need.

Maybe. The thing with DeLillo is that he basically causes you to lose the ability to think. To determine. I haven't made a point yet, have I? While reading this book, I started having literal issues thinking and speaking on my feet. My lisp became more pronounced. Interpret as you will, since you will.

1 comment:

  1. Note: connection of the "suitcase" of every American to the "box" that everyone has. Cf: FOLLOWING, Nolan's debut, but I know I've heard/read/seen it in other places. That box for the American is? the suitcase. Cf: UP IN THE AIR, as referenced in the post, the suitcase for Ryan Bingham is most definitely something we could view as the box and also something quintessentially American, with our emphasis on speed ("time is money"). Compare UP IN THE AIR--take a look at the consolidation of it into two pages in THE NAMES--Cf to THE DAY ROOM, where DeLillo references airports.


Thanks for reading and/or commenting. Anything you have to say is especially appreciated.