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… by UD‘s favorite novelist, Don DeLillo, appears in the latest Esquire.


Update before we go any further: A reader, James, points out that although it stands alone as a story in Esquire, this is in fact an excerpt from the final pages of DeLillo’s novel Cosmopolis. I didn’t recall this at all (I sped through Cosmopolis, disliking it from the first page, so maybe that’s the reason.), and I’m very grateful to James for reminding me.

Since it’s presented as a self-standing story in Esquire, I’m going to keep this post. Just keep in mind that it is also part of a novel.


DeLillo’s short stories, like his plays, don’t do much for UD. His strange and beautiful writing style needs space to work its magic; it needs space and it needs a shifting around of scenes, a sort of pastichy movement. It also needs to stretch out in terms of presenting us with the complicated fullness of consciousnesses.

Packed tightly, in a very brief narrative, DeLillo’s prose seems to me schematic. If you know his writing, you can see all too clearly in a short story like this one in Esquire his playing out and weaving in of familiar themes — simulacral urban culture, in which real trauma is replaced by play-acted trauma; the replacement of a sense of reality and a sense of privacy by a sense of surreality, and by the public exposure of everyone’s life that constant filming and other forms of voyeurism prompt; a conviction, despite this exteriorization of human life, that you’re radically isolated from other people, even from the person to whom you’re married; the sad pathos of our bodies, emblems of our flickering existence…

As in Advanced Disaster Management’s simulated disaster on the streets of Jack Gladney’s town in White Noise, so here DeLillo’s fascinated by the vague line between contrived human catastrophe and — even as we’re only simulating it — the real disaster of our fragile embodiment inside a dangerous world.

Were they pretending to be naked, or were they naked?

Part of a crowd of naked living bodies lying motionless on a New York City street, posing for a scene in a film, DeLillo’s narrator nicely describes the surface of a city street when it’s right up against your face:

He felt the textural variation of slubs of chewing gum compressed by decades of traffic. He smelled the ground fumes, the oil leaks and rubbery skids, summers of hot tar.

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2 Responses to “An Earthy Story for Earth Day…”

  1. James Says:

    Doesn’t Eric Packer encounter something similar in the last pages of Cosmopolis?

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    James: Actually, this IS from Cosmopolis – I totally forgot that it’s from that novel. Esquire excerpted it.

    Thank you for noticing! I’ll correct the post.


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