Don DeLillo’s Point Omega

In 1991, Don DeLillo wrote Mao II, a prophetic little novel that examines (among other things) the tension between terrorists and novelists. Everything that’s happened after 1991 considered, it’s a pretty prescient book, especially when main character—a reclusive novelist in the Salinger/Pynchon vein—gets around to talking about the battle for the soul of culture: “For some time now I’ve had the feeling that terrorists and novelists are playing a zero-sum game… What terrorists gain, novelists lose. The degree to which they influence mass consciousness is the extent of our decline as shapers of sensibility and thought. The danger they represent equals our own failure to be dangerous.”

Nearly twenty years later—after 9/11, after our overreaction to 9/11, after the fear and the paranoia, after fewer and fewer people reading novelists, after cable news, after seemingly everything—DeLillo’s conclusion seems pretty foregone. Of course terrorism infiltrates and determines our mass consciousness. Of course. Of course novelists can no longer rise above the din of violence and cable news or blogs or whatever form of media you love to hate. Of course. Even the idea of a novelist so prominent that he or she could tangle with terrorists seems a little quaint now.

With the possible exception of DeLillo himself. Continue reading

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Roberto Bolano’s 2666

There’s nothing like dying to make you famous. Case in point: Roberto Bolano, a Chilean novelist who had little success up until the almost instant canonization that followed his 2003 death. Besides death, part of the reason for the recent rise of Bolano’s critical stock is that many of his books are just now being translated into English, most recently 2666, his posthumous final novel. 2666 is an ambitious, massive book (almost 900 pages) that seeks to do no less than to prove that literature can be meaningful in a world full of death and incomprehensible violence. Continue reading

Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts

I get many, many letters from readers asking me, “When will someone finally combine the work of Jose Luis Borges and the movie Jaws into a novel?” Well, readers, please do not write me any more letters, because this book already exists: Steven Hall’s first novel, The Raw Shark Texts, combines postmodern conceptuality and shark filled adventure stories into a weird genre bending book that ultimately proves a satisfying read, even if it gets bogged down a little too much with its complex plot and mythos. Continue reading

Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons

Tom Wolfe is usually associated with the 60s New Journalism movement and his habit of wearing all-white suits, but he is also, apparently, “America’s greatest living novelist.” This is according to the back cover of my paperback copy of Wolfe’s latest novel, 2004’s I Am Charlotte Simmons. I picked up Charlotte Simmons over Christmas break, mainly because I’d heard of Wolfe and read some his shorter stuff, but had never bothered reading any of his books; he always seemed like one of those guys I should read, but never really got around to. (And yes, I’m doing a book review of something that came out four years ago, but please indulge me anyway.) Continue reading

Paul Neilan’s Apathy and Other Small Victories

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a cynical, white twenty-something slacks off at a job that he hates, is completely apathetic towards all his relationships, and routinely indulges in some bizarre activity to let off the steam of living in a fake, consumerist society. No, it’s not Fight Club or Office Space (or pretty much everything made in the 90s); it’s Paul Neilan’s first novel, Apathy and Other Small Victories. Apathy may not be the most innovative book ever published, but what it lacks in originality it more than makes up for in its sarcastic, brilliant humor, even if it’s a little disappointing in the end. Continue reading

Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road

Gentlemen of the Road, the newest novel from critically acclaimed author Michael Chabon, was originally titled Jews with Swords. It’s one of the greatest mistakes in all of publishing history that the original title wasn’t kept; Jews with Swords evokes a humorous, anachronistic sense of adventure that sums up the spirit of the book in a way that the bland title Gentlemen of the Road can never hope to do. The failed potential of its title aside, Gentlemen of the Road is still worth considering; not only is it an interesting departure for Chabon, but it’s also a quick, fun read, a light and entertaining adventure reminiscent of Dumas and other serial adventure stories. Continue reading

Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day

“Now single up all lines!” begins Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, a fairly simple beginning for an author known for being convoluted and obscure. I’ll take any chance I can get to write about Pynchon, and the first paperback release of Against the Day seems to warrant it. In case you missed its original release last winter, the novel typical Pynchon: a sprawling epic filled with hundreds of characters, stretching across the world (and beneath it, and a few other places not on the map) and spanning the era from 1893 to World War I. Although it doesn’t quite equal the achievement of his earlier work, Against the Day is a solid entry into the Pynchon canon, consistently offering enough fantastic characters, absurd and expansive settings, and bizarre humor to make it his most entertaining work to date. Continue reading