Reviewed by Ted Gioia

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.  
True, 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.  

Both of these stories will lull the reader into a false sense of the unfolding
drama, which eventually emerges from actions that take place when no camera
is watching.   The tone of the novel adjusts accordingly.  DeLillo often situates
his stories at an intersection in which a turn one way takes the story into a dark
humor, but a slight turn in the other direction leads into the merely dark, where
the comic has been replaced by the horrific.  His last novel,
Falling Man, took this
latter turn, presenting DeLillo’s somber reenactment of events surrounding
9/11, some of them seen through the eyes of a suicide bomber.   
Point Omega
continues in this vein, taking a few feints at a comedy of manners before opting
for tragedy.

The plot seems fragmented at first, and this too is a familiar DeLillo device.  
Even his 800 page novel
Underworld is really a quilt comprised of juxtaposed
sections that resist integration into a linear narrative.  But the fragmentation of
Point Omega is a true fake-out.  The separate plot lines actually coalesce,
snapping together with the rightness of a piece of IKEA furniture.  And I am
sure that I am not only reader who needed to stop and put down the book at
that moment when the linkage between the various plot lines emerges from the
mist.

The result is book that may surprise some of this author’s longtime fans.  I
count myself as an admirer, but I must admit that I haven’t considered tight and
intricate plotting as one of DeLillo’s great strengths.  Yet here he has pulled the
old switcheroo, and introduces us to another facet of his evolving work,
delivering a work whose conclusion will force you to reconsider most of what
has come before.  So when you size up the thinness of the volume and
calculate the price paid per word—yes, despite what you may have heard to the
contrary, people
do put a price tag on art—factor in the possibility that Point
Omega
is one of those rare books you may feel compelled to read again.
Point Omega

by Don DeLillo
Great Books Guide
Contact Ted Gioia at
tedgioia@hotmail.com

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www.tedgioia.com

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Selected Reviews
(2007-2011)
BY TED GIOIA

Chad Harbach [click here]
Chuck Palahniuk [
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Ernest Cline [
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Bonnie Jo Campbell [
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China Miéville [
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V.S. Naipaul [
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David Foster Wallace [
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T.C. Boyle [
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Colm Tóibín [
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Jonathan Franzen
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Per Petterson [
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David Mitchell
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Frederick Turner
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Tom Rachman
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Martin Amis
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Robert Stone [
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Don DeLillo [
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Joshua Ferris [
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Philip Roth [
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Jonathan Lethem [
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Richard Price [
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Donald Ray Pollock
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Don DeLillo [
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Jonathan Lethem [
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