Yes, the great authors are different. In the case of this book, we learn that a writer of note can produce a novella of little more than one hundred pages and convince his publisher to release it as a $24.00 hardcover. In this economy, that news is either reassuring or troubling, depending on your perspective. Measured by the word, the price tag may seem a bit exorbitant, but when the author is Don DeLillo, the reader is advised to splurge.
Let us revisit Mr. DeLillo’s resume, for those unfamiliar with it. He is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, and in a fairer universe would be a strong candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature. DeLillo’s magnum opus Underworld was selected as one of the three best novels of the preceding 25 years by the New York Times in a 2006 survey of writers and critics. His 1988 novel Libra, a fictionalized account of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald, also garnered votes in the same poll, while DeLillo’s 1985 work White Noise may be the pick of the litter, a wry novel about an academic who has pioneered the new field of “Hitler Studies,” but needs to hide the fact that he can hardly understand German.
Point Omega captures many of the trademark strengths of this author. DeLillo may be the finest writer of dialogue among contemporary authors, and is especially acute at capturing interlocutors who talk at cross purposes, an effect that can be either comic or disturbing depending on the setting. In his thematic choices, DeLillo is the anti-Norman Rockwell, the master of Americana stripped of the nostalgic or endearing, and laid forth, like a patient etherized on a table, in all its banality and self-serving deceptions. Sometimes the dice are loaded — this author often constructs characters who seem to have targets painted on their back, begging for a deflating jibe — but DeLillo never collapses into the preachiness and badgering that torpedoes too many novels that aim for social relevancy.
DeLillo gradually circles into his story in Point Omega. At first, the novel appears to be about avant-garde cinema, setting up two contrasting plots that both deal with motion pictures. In the first section of the book, DeLillo presents readers with an unnamed character who is obsessed with a museum screening of a doctored version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, in which the original 109 minute film is slowed down to transpire over a period of 24 hours. This opening gambit is followed by a longer narrative describing a different filmmaker’s attempt to convince a former Pentagon consultant to participate in a documentary project.