LITERATURE: The Body Artist by Don DeLillo

The opening paragraph of this book is awesome:

"Time seems to pass. The world happens, unrolling into moments, and you stop to glance at a spider pressed to its web.  There is a quickness of light and a sense of things outlined precisely and streaks of running luster on the bay.  You know more surely who you are on a strong bright day after a storm when the smallest falling leaf is stabbed with self-awareness.  The wind makes a sound in the pines and the world comes into being, irreversibly, and the spider rides the wind-swayed web."  (p. 7)

"unrolling into moments" — What a wonderful understanding of the movement of the earth, of time, halted by the image of "a spider pressed to its web."  You see it, the imagery encompasses the mood by recalling the familiar, even though we may not have been aware of what we’ve seen, we’ve seen this and for that one moment, felt what the narrator is telling us we’ve seen as he begins the story in this second person pov.

"There is a quickness of light and a sense of things outlined precisely" — I know this!  You know this!  How quick and sharp the wet world looks in the sunlight after a rain!  If ever nature has given me the instant to notice and wonder about its birth and existence, this is that instance.  I here admit that these elusive moments in time are when I most strongly believe in and thank an artistic Master Creator, more so than ever felt in the somber sanctity of a church.

"streaks of running luster on the bay."  —  Movement.  DeLillo could have used "shimmering" as the visual image we see of morning sunlight on the water, but this is so poetic and active, and, I must add, new; proving that there are still imageries to think up that can replace the cliches.

"smallest falling leaf is stabbed with self-awareness."  —  Although the "stabbed" doesn’t seem to fit the image, the word indicates the sharp clarity, and perhaps looked at closely but loosely, I find it perfect with the feeling of what true self-awareness often brings in the pain of honesty.  I know this well, the doubt, the fear that comes with looking deeply into oneself and questioning motive.

"The wind makes a sound in the pines and the world comes into being, irreversibly, and the spider rides the wind-swayed web."  — Perfect.  DeLillo adds sound to the picture, and the added sense along with that of touch in feeling the wind brings us fully into his world.  Metaphorically, I see the world and life going on around us, and our own small part in it, a tenuous grip on fine silken threads of the web.  Are we buffeted by the winds of what life blows our way, held to the earth only by what we’ve built by anchoring points and a web, a net to catch and hold what is needed or dear to us?  From the action of the expanse of world, DeLillo focuses us with crystal clarity on that spider clinging to his web.  Again, perfect.

But from here the chapter disintegrated for me.  Damn good thing I did learn of the "importance" of this novel, or it might have been flung across the room midway through chapter one.  Also a good thing that this is a very short book–124 pages of which I’ve read the first 26–because it looks like I’ll have to do some rereading to catch the glory and the story of this one. 

I almost wish I had the good professor standing in the front of a classroom telling us why this is such good writing, good story, because I’m missing it here.  The entire first chapter revolves around a couple having breakfast.  It is well done in bringing about that feeling of living around each other that happens with settled relationships  (Reminiscent of Blackberries — a short story by Ellen Hunnicutt, link to my essay)  Unfortunately, it goes on for 19 pages this way and to me, I was getting very antsy wondering why DeLillo was beating us over the head with it.  There are a series of unfinished sentences in their morning discourse, each into his and her own thoughts, but it surprises me that DeLillo puts so little into so much text.  Perhaps after Marquez who puts so much into so little, I am having trouble readjusting.  Or maybe just stubborn.  I do have a tendency to be a bit stubborn sometimes.

More on this, with examples so I’m not considered a complete idiot, tomorrow (or I guess that would be later this morning).  But I shall reread this first flimsy chapter and maybe I’ll "get it" and recant what I’ve just laid out here.

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2 Responses to LITERATURE: The Body Artist by Don DeLillo

  1. Time to read a more rewarding book. 🙂

    Life is too short to read something that sounds like exercises in descriptive prose.

    Read something that has something to communicate.

    Your blog is a treasure. Keep up the great work!

  2. susan says:

    But David, this was the best paragraph of the chapter! Seriously, as a fiction writer I do look for the metaphor and imagery although obviously, you wouldn’t want to read an entire book that’s written this way (as in the above example). No, my complaint is with the rest of the chapter and I will read it again before I post on it. And thank you for your kind praise, it’s what keeps me going.

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