Even though I often change my mind as I read through a book, I sort of like posting my impressions as I go along rather than the usual review given after completing the reading. As in my month-long reading of 100 Years of Solitude, our perspectives change as we read further into a story, although I know when I’m hooked from the start.
With The Body Artist, I am in fact liking it a bit less, and I probably would have hated it had I read something like this prior to my more learned comprehensive dealing with literature. This, taken from the front coverleaf:
Lauren is living on a lonely coast, in a rambling rented house, where she encounters a strange, ageless man, a man with uncanny knowledge of her own life. Together they begin a journey into the wilderness of time–time, love and human perception.
As the Seattle Times said of DeLillo’s last novel, "Masterpieces teach you how to read them." The Body Artist is a haunting, beautiful and profoundly moving novel from one of the finest writers of our time.
While I would not argue with the skill of the author, I would apply the Pollack Principle to this novel. It is almost that if you don’t understand it, it must be great and a following ensues. Meanwhile, I wonder if the artist isn’t laughing at us.
This strange little man has no great qualities except to spout back at Lauren memorized conversations from the past. I feel it is similar to meeting someone who smiles knowingly, says little, and is branded deep and mysterious when in fact he may be a complete idiot. Hey, even she calls him a geek and a "little creep".
However, if it turns out that this man is either a figment of Lauren’s imagination, a projection of her thoughts, it might be a fascinating look at the way we handle grief and guilt. But I see no beauty here, at least at what comes from him, and I see no reason to extract a deep meaning about time and existence just because he suddenly showed up without knowing or revealing a past or having any thoughts of the future. It is what she is interpreting from this visit, what Lauren is trying to justify or resolve that is of more importance.
And to quote from the above, "ageless man" — the dictionary definition is "never growing old." We only have him for a brief time, what a couple weeks? Does that prove agelessness?
And this, "a man with uncanny knowledge of her own life" — Well DeLillo has already given us the concrete possibility that much of what this man says is either taken from what the dead Rey had previously recorded on a tape recorder, or what Lauren herself has said. Perhaps DeLillo is allowing us our own choice of taking the hard line of fact or suspension of belief. Maybe that’s just as telling of the reader, and tells us more about ourselves than this strange little man.
Or maybe I’m just grumpy now that I’m officially a year older today.