Review: Don DeLillo’s Point Omega

By Joshua Willey

 

In his new novel Point Omega (Scribner, 128 pages), the formal transformation of Don DeLillo seems complete. Once upon a time, he was a master of narrative complexity. In works such as Libra, Mao II, and Underworld, he applied a hard, realist edge to the dazzling, plot weaving modes of first-wave American postmodernists like Gaddis and Pynchon. He managed to harness the preeminent late-capitalist themes in books which, though still gargantuan, were ultimately far more intelligible than The Recognitions or Gravity’s Rainbow. In his last three novels, The Body Artist, Cosmopolis, and Falling Man, DeLillo continued to wrangle with alienation, violence, a schizophrenic semiotic system, and the place of the artist or intellectual amidst it all, but instead of flooding the reader with settings and characters, he increasingly embraced a sparsity new not only to his oeuvre but to postmodern fiction in general. Once a stylistic godfather to the likes of David Foster Wallace (who believed DeLillo was one of the greatest living novelists) and Jonathan Franzen, he’s now abandoned the frontier he himself pioneered.

 

It is almost as if his subjects crossed a failsafe line. Perhaps it was no longer possible for him to write honestly about America in 2010 in the same voice he’d used in 1990. Dellilo has cited jazz and abstract expressionism as key influences, so maybe it’s appropriate to say he’s gone from Pollack to Rothko, from Birth of the Cool to Kind of Blue. He’s taken a giant step back, a structural move which is mirrored, in Point Omega, by the novel’s rustic, Mojave Desert locale. His tone is reflective, lyrical, elliptical, promoting a slow read and slower digestion. Instead of his famed Hitler Studies professor agonizing over his lack of German (White Noise), Point Omega characters sit in long silences, watch long sunsets, take long walks. Whereas once we associated DeLillo with over-saturation, we now find him at his most empty.

 

The trademark content is present as ever: terror and art (one character is an ex-military intellectual, another is an avant-garde filmmaker), but DeLillo is breathing deeply now, and it suits him well. This year’s Scribner catalog blurb about the novel concluded with the sentence “we are truly in the age autism.” This an apt description of the Point Omega world, but DeLillo has delivered us a powerful tool by engaging such material in an elegant, rather than a chaotic register. It is not surprising that the Omega Point was a concept formulated by a Jesuit. The theory goes that the universe is perpetually increasing in complexity (materially and metaphysically), and eventually, it will attain a maximum level and the evolution will be complete. Though DeLillo might not conceive of the Omega Point as Judgment Day or a meeting with God, he does seem to identify some fundamental, existential shift, which has required him to reinvent his approach to the page. Point Omega deserves attention not only as the latest product of a master craftsman, but as an insightful mercury in a time of suicide bombers, earthquakes, and oil spills.

 

 

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After growing up in Oakland and studying literature in Portland, Joshua Willey moved to China and commenced working a perennial series of day jobs including fishing and firefighting. He’s currently moving to Mexico City and completing If I’m Not Back By Morning, a novel about hitch hiking.


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