We love Don DeLillo. Has anyone else been able to capture the American experience so brilliantly? Has anyone else had such a an eye for seeing into the future (Christ, he was flying planes in the World Trade Center in his 1977 novel Players!)? Sure, others have done an impressive job, but we’d argue that none have been as consistently on target in their exploration of our hopes, fears, dreams, and disasters as DeLillo has.
In honor of the recent announcement that he will be receiving the inaugural award of the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction, we proudly present, in no particular order, our top five DeLillo novels.
Published in 1985, DeLillo’s eighth novel is a National Book Award winning postmodern masterpiece that eloquently captures our fears of aging, death, and disaster. DeLillo always seems to be eerily ahead of his time and this novel is no exception. Exploring our need to overmedicate every little ailment in an attempt to cure mortality and mute feeling? In 1985?! Of course there’s also a human-induced “Airborne Toxic Event” to contend with (yes, this where the band got their name) and an exploration of our obsession with consuming that which is mass marketed to us. If it sounds like a lot to bite off, that’s because it is, but DeLillo is more than up to the task here.
Remember Cleo Birdwell? No? She was supposedly the first woman to play hockey in the NHL and Amazons is her supposed memoir. Funny thing is though, it was actually written by Don DeLillo in the early 80’s right around the same time as White Noise. As a matter of fact, sportswriter character Murray Jay Siskind actually appears in both works.
Why does DeLillo refuse to acknowledge writing this in any of his official bibliographies and why hasn’t he allowed it to be republished since its initial release? Your guess is as good as mine, but the fact that it is not easily available to the masses is tragic because it’s one of his best efforts. [Read our entire review]
From the first page, the reader is plunged head first into a world filled with conspiracy and paranoia, never certain which persons are real, and which are the creation of the author’s mind. The fictionalized versions of Oswald and Ruby turn out to be more interesting than the men behind the so-called conspiracy. Oswald’s time in the military and his time spent living in Russia are covered in detail. Overall, an interesting creation that blends fact and fiction in the DeLillo trademark style. Every sentence flows perfectly, yet each feels effortlessly constructed.
The Body Artist
Say what you will about The Body Artist. This short novella tends to get slammed by readers and critics who take issue with a plot that never fully develops. The criticism may be valid to a point, but one can’t deny the beautiful writing that’s present here. We offer up for exhibit A the very first chapter which takes a seemingly mundane morning conversation between a husband and wife and turns it into something magical. At only 128 pages The Body Artist is a quick read, but the details will swirl in your head long after you’ve closed the cover.
Clocking in at 827 pages, and structured in a non-linear format, Underworld is a massive undertaking that finds DeLillo exploring multiple themes, including, above all else perhaps, his love for America’s greatest pastime: baseball. If you consider the first chapter of The Body Artist to be amazing (and we do, see above), then the opening of Underworld which is available as a separate novella titled Pafko at the Wall is pure genius. Waste management, nuns, and infidelity reign supreme here as DeLillo forces his subjects and the reader to face difficult moments they’d rather forget.
Bonus: Game 6
We’re cheating a bit here, but it’s our list.
Don’t read Cosmopolis. Don’t see the movie adaptation. Instead see Game 6. Based on a screenplay by DeLillo that years later would morph into the novel Cosmopolis, and featuring stunning performances by Michael Keaton and Robert Downy Jr, Game 6 once again explores our fascination with baseball, this time through the a day in the life of one New Yorker during the 1985 World Series.
Have you read DeLillo obsessively? Which of his novels are your favorite?