a beautifully structured murder mystery, or is it an idea of the universe as an inversion of the infinite, a compression of all event into a common, everyday chamber? war as haiku is one of its “unintentionally humorous” conceits… i admit to being totally surprised by this book. at first approach, reading the familiar delillo scenes of lonely men in empty rooms i was lulled into thinking we’d be covering old ground. but in the middle of the book, a plot point, which initially feels somewhat easy and perhaps manipulative, twists this plain land into a haunting and eldritch möbius strip.
WSJ: You’ve often discussed the need for writers to stand in opposition to society and people in power, and to be outsiders. How has that idea guided your work?
Mr. DeLillo: It’s very non-specific. It’s not something one does consciously; it’s just a general sense that this culture is so filled with consumption and waste that, even if one doesn’t write about it in specific terms as I did write about it in “Underworld,” I think a writer may feel that he is standing in opposition to this, and perhaps in a very general way to the idea of power itself.
WSJ: Do you think most contemporary fiction writers are living up to that task?
more than any of his others, PLAYERS pushes dialogue to meaninglessness, an experiment in how far afield our hip and close-quartered patois can go, how completely empty of sense. a combination of zen cases, wiseguy assholisms, and andy kaufman-rejected punchlines, delillo tirelessly (but we may tire) explores the idea of city people talking endless shit.
but this arguably slightest of delillos still’s got its morsels, not the least of which is its famous 1977 prophecy of terrorism’s intimate relationship with the world trade center.
it reminded me–maybe because of their equally still plots, maybe because of their protagonists’ essential isolation, maybe cuz i think of the two as his most experimental–of THE BODY ARTIST. there the characters were modern ascetics, holy people of personal art. here our players are devout cynics. …it was the first time it ever really registered with me (to make a generalization) the essentially religious nature of finance people, their worship not of money but the flow of it through specific, ritualized channels. in this book that appeared to me for the first time, not as some weak extended metaphor, of god as money, but a real truth: a worship–an ongoing worship–of a deified system.
it has very few pleasures, is nihilistic in its intentions. its characters are the worst of us, the emptiest and thus the worst. the enjoyment you do get is from his gravel-made, manly poetic word play. …but that’s enough for me…
and even delillo’s minor novels are pretty good. this one followed by the also-minor RUNNING DOG, then his best (so says I) THE NAMES. strikes me in two different ways: 1) it shows how consistent he actually is and somewhat opposingly that 2) within an authorial life, there’s more fortune than progress. of the latter, here’s a quote from a delillo interview that i always loved:
from: INTRODUCING DON DELILLO:
“I think one of the things I’ve learned from experience is that it isn’t enough to want to get back to work. The other thing I’ve learned is that no amount of experience can prevent you from making a major mistake. I think it can help you avoid the small mistakes. But the potential for a completely misconceived book still exists.”