What's Going On?

By Cummins, Anthony | The Spectator, November 26, 2011 | Go to article overview

What's Going On?


Cummins, Anthony, The Spectator


The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories

by Don DeLillo

Picador, £16.99, pp. 211,

ISBN 9781447207573

An early sentence in this collection of stories, first published between 1979 and the current issue of Granta, runs thus:

We were in the late stages now, about 45 minutes out, and I was thinking it could still change, some rude blend of weather might yet transform the land, producing texture and dimension, leaps of green light, those waverings and rays, and the near consciousness we always seem to find in zones of overgrown terrain. [The speaker is a tourist in the back of a taxi on his way to an airport in the Caribbean. ] It's not hard to see why the Atlantic critic B. R. Myers, in 'A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness of American Literary Prose', named Bronx-born Don DeLillo as one of several US heavyweights whose blather we mistake for art. (Others were Paul Auster, Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx. ) 'Those' waverings and rays? The near consciousness 'we' always seem to find? 'Some' rude blend of weather? Myers's charge of 'spurious profundity' looks fair even before you get to 'the neural pulse of some wilder awareness' and the tremor-hit street that 'resembled some landscape in the dreaming part of us'.

Or maybe it's more that we can't read DeLillo the way a copy editor might. After all, not being able to work out what the hell is going on is actually one of his themes:

that smoke-machine prose generates the atmosphere in which his city folk get the heebie-jeebies. …

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