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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Portrait of the artist as a young nerd?: DeLillo excerpt in NYer

How you take the novel excerpt in current New Yorker, Sine Cosine Tangent, from Don DeLillo, will depend of course on how well you like his work - which I find both mysterious and sometimes irritating - but I don't think this piece shows him at his best, and wonder what others may think. Partly, though this is just an excerpt, I don't think DD works too well in short form - the effect of his novels is cumulative, both within the works and across the body of his work, a sense of doom and conspiracy and the world hooked up to all the wrong values all of which are out or reach or just beyond our capacity for comprehension. There's a touch of that in this excerpt, in particular the young man's reflection on the mysterious and elusive occupation of his estranged father - who seems to be an economist focused on the profit potential of natural disasters, and someone who consults to hedge funds and maybe governments at the highest level- and the later occupations of the young man, all of them bullshit sounding job titles like Network Integration Consultant and things like that, which mean exactly nothing, even to the young man holding the job - jobs you hold for about 20 minutes and then move along. But those are only small segments of this piece, which for the most part is a rather pointless and unengaging account of the young man's life after his father leaves the home and marriage - he absorbs himself in long novels that he can't quite understand, he develops an obsession with certain words - these to idiosyncrasies or perhaps pretensions are typical literally of every young novelist - he develops and hones certain affectations, such as a fake limp. Later he has a girlfriend about whom he cares little and in fact doesn't even know how she spells her name: Gail? Gale? - and thinks about her differently depending on which spelling he imagines, i.e., the word more important than the relations. So, what have we? Portrait of the artist as a young nerd? Or is this man not an artist in development but something maybe more sinister? That's the mysterious part of DeLillo's writing, and it may pull you, or me, into the novel, but if this is the start it's a bumpy one.

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