“Everybody wants to own the end of the world.”
May 3, 2016 8:06 AM   Subscribe

Back to the Future by Tony Tulathimutte [The New Republic] For 45 years, Don DeLillo has been our high priest of the American apocalypse, having tackled just about every man-made disaster: nukes in End Zone, nukes and garbage in Underworld, toxic pollution in White Noise, financial busts in Cosmopolis, terrorism in Falling Man, terrorism and the death of the novel in Mao II, war in Point Omega. His latest novel, Zero K, clears out every end-times scenario left in the bag: climate change, droughts, pandemics, volcanoes, biological warfare, even meteor strikes and solar flares. But these only menace in the background as future probabilities, and the novel’s focus is not human extinction but its inverse: immortality through cryonics.


- The Genius of Don DeLillo’s Post-Underworld Work by Christian Lorentzen [Vulture]
Have we held Don DeLillo’s Underworld against him? Masterpieces of an epic scale are a tricky business, not least for the distorting effect they can have on the rest of a writer’s works. Tolstoy wrote two, but most mortals — Melville, George Eliot, Joyce — only get one. And while War and Peace and Anna Karenina cycle through screen adaptations, how many readers reach for a major minor work — a work of beauty but of limited scope — like The Kreutzer Sonata? The same question already applies to Zero K, DeLillo’s new novel. “In recent years,” James Wolcott wrote in his memoir Lucking Out, “DeLillo must ask himself the cosmic question, ‘Why go on?,’ his later novels greeted with a fish-face without a trace of affection for everything he's done before, beating him up with his own achievements (Libra, Underworld) instead.”
- Q&A: A Rare Interview with Don DeLillo, One of the Titans of American Fiction by Carolyn Kellogg [L.A. Times]
INTERVIEWER: It’s interesting, because your publicist told me that you don’t use email. But in “Zero K,” they’re in the back of the cab and each person in turn is kind of stabbing at that video screen to try to shut it up [DeLillo laughs] and it doesn’t go off – clearly you’ve been in the world. How do you balance being in and of the world and maintaining a writing space away from it?
DON DELILLO: It’s an interesting question. I think I’m only slightly away from the world. I’m aware of all of these things. And of course I do have friends, and my wife uses email. So it’s never very far away. And I do use an iPad just to do research. If I need to look something up, I try there. It would not necessarily have anything to do with the work I’m doing. I might want to check the title of a movie, or the director of a movie, and so I’ll just tap some letters on the iPad.

INTERVIEWER: What kind of research did you do for the science and the cryogenics of “Zero K”?
DON DELILLO: I tried to limit it. Of course I did research but I didn’t want to go overboard. At some point, quite early on, I just stopped looking at data and invented what I could, trying to stay within the limits of reality. I think the key of the cryogenic aspect of the novel is that here in this facility, there is an area called “Zero K” in which people volunteer to undergo the cryogenic process even though they are nowhere near dying. This is the essence of the novel, in a way. It’s voluntary and, to my knowledge, there is nothing like this in three-dimensional reality.
- Don DeLillo's New Novel Isn't Even Out Yet, But the TV Show Is Already in the Works by Cheryll Eddy [io9]
Zero K follows billionaire Ross Lockhart whose younger wife, Artis Martineau, has a terminal illness. Lockhart is a significant investor in a secretive, remote compound where death is controlled and bodies are preserved until medical advances can restore individuals to improved lives. He hopes Artis can benefit from this pioneering science. Told from the perspective of son Jeffrey Lockhart, Zero K weighs the devastations of our time against “the mingled astonishments of our lives, here, on Earth.”
- Death and Don DeLillo by Meghan Daum [The Atlantic]
So what are we to make of the naked brutality of Zero K? The severed heads, the broken bodies, the grisly images on the screens? If some 30 years ago DeLillo suggested, in White Noise, that the primal human terror is the fear of death, Zero K appears to be a novel about the fear of life. On its face, the Convergence’s mission may be convincing people that other and far more permanent versions of life are preferable to this life, and certainly to death. But what it’s really selling is the idea that the world as we know it is slowly coming to an end. The big prize is the realization that in dying (even, God forbid, the old-fashioned, nonfrozen way), we’re not really going to miss much. On the contrary, given what lies in store, we’re going to want to miss most of it.
- White Noise by Don DeLillo is May's Guardian Reading Group Book [The Guardian]
His collected works are so good that it’s hard to choose between them – there are few I’ve read that I wouldn’t recommend and there are plenty I would want to push on you with evangelical zeal. Underworld, for instance, is mighty. Staggering. Overwhelming. But it’s also long and complex. We’ll hopefully get to it one day on the Reading group, but for now I’m going to make an executive decision. Because while it isn’t easy to name the finest DeLillo book, the best place to start is clear: his breakthrough novel from 1985, White Noise.

This winner of the 1985 US National Book Award is an easily readable classic that we can plough through in a few weeks, but also one that provides rich territory for discussion, as well as a useful comparison with the new novel Zero K. Both books display Don DeLillo’s talent for sly humour and pointed satire, not to mention a commendable willingness to enter the realms of speculative fiction and absurdity. We’ll hopefully have time for some kind of comparison towards the end of the month.
- Don DeLillo Is Turning Into Late-Period Beckett by Mark O'Connell [Slate]
His artistic trajectory has taken him, thematically, further into the reaches of speculative abstraction and, stylistically, into a kind of poetics of cultural exhaustion. His preoccupations with the deceleration of narrative time and the passage of history toward some unnamable apocalyptic event have become more pronounced with every new work. In this sense, the writer he seems more and more to resemble is Samuel Beckett. Zero K exhibits unmistakable traces of Beckett’s late style––in DeLillo’s increasingly terse humor, in sentences that seem to contain their own negation. See, for instance, Ross’s description of the view of the landscape from the window of his father’s room at the compound: “Sky pale and bare, day fading in the west, if it was the west, if it was the sky.” This is the sort of sky, dead or nearly dead, you imagine Clov looking out at in Endgame and the sort of description of it he’d give.
posted by Fizz (6 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

I was for many years obsessed with Delillo, then I wasn't and I didn't want to read him at all. But I'm actually really looking forward to reading his latest.

(Every Christmas I still say "Then we came to the end of another dull and lurid year ...")
posted by octobersurprise at 8:29 AM on May 3, 2016

Awesome post!

I had a long bus and subway commute when I read Underworld. I'm glad I had the time to stick with it.

My copy of Zero K is on the way to my local library branch as of today!!! (I put a hold on it when it first went on order).

DELILLO ALERT: If you're in Toronto or nearby, he's appearing at the Toronto Reference Library on June 2. Free tickets go on "sale" Monday morning (you can only book two per person, and they're only available on a first come first serve basis).
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:35 AM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

The first book that I read by Don Delillo was Point Omega. It was as if someone had turned a tone poem into a novella about a 9/11 conspiracy theorist who lives in the desert. It was weird and wonderful. I cannot wait to get home, so I can dive into his new novel.
posted by Fizz at 8:35 AM on May 3, 2016

I had a long bus and subway commute when I read Underworld.

I bought Underworld the day it came out—having patiently waited the 5 years since "Pafko At The Wall" was published to herald the new novel—and read it through a health crisis that I feared might kill me. I couldn't have found it more comforting. All plots tend deathwards, as the man says.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:49 AM on May 3, 2016

Free tickets go on "sale" Monday morning (you can only book two per person, and they're only available on a first come first serve basis).

My bad - the Delillo tickets are available at 9 am on Thursday, May 5. They'll go pretty quick.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:03 AM on May 3, 2016

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