LITERATURE: The Body Artist – Word Cues

In the first chapter which followed Lauren and Rey around their kitchen and morning breakfast routine, DeLillo took pains to be specifically mundane in their routine, yet so detailed as to be almost aggravatingly boring.  Unfortunately, if one gave in to that, one might have missed certain cues that return in the days following as Lauren interrelates to the strange man who has suddenly appeared in the house after Rey’s suicide:

(…)and then the toaster thing popped and she flipped it down again because it took two flips to get the bread to go brown… (P. 8)  and What’s it called, the lever.  She’d pressed down the lever to get his bread to go brown.  (p. 9)

The toaster reappears as Lauren makes breakfast for the little man:

She’d fed him leftover soup and some bread, some toast.  You had to flip the thing twice to get the bread to toast properly.  (p. 44)

And a hair:

She picked a hair out of her mouth.  She stood at the counter looking at it, a short pale strand that wasn’t hers and wasn’t his.  (p. 10)

The hair remains in this opening scene for a while, instigates a conversation between Lauren and Rey:

"I always think this isn’t supposed to happen her.  I think anywhere but here."

He said, "What?"

"A hair in my mouth.  From someone else’s head."

"Do you think it happens only in big cities with mixed populations?"

"Anywhere but here."  She held the strand of hair between thumb and index finger, regarding it with mock aversion stretched to artistic limits, her mouth at a palsied slant.  "That’s what I think."  (p. 11)

But we find that the hair is in fact most likely from the strange little man whom Lauren has named Mr. Tuttle, after a former teacher of whom he reminded her.  And DeLillo gives us the answer in an intimate scene as Lauren walks into the bathroom where the little man is taking a bath, and proceeds to bathe him:

She felt something wispy at the edge of her mouth, half in half out, that could only be a hair.  She plucked at it and brushed with her thumb, a strand of hair from the washcloth, and she couldn’t feel it on her face anymore and she looked at him and looked at her hand and maybe it was just an itch.  (p. 69)

Likewise, though the item does not remain consistent, the tie with past and present, pre and post suicide is brought in with the radio she turns on and Rey turns off in link with the tape recorder she uses in her conversations with Mr. Tuttle and his persistent attempts to turn it off.

Obviously the noises in the house were a presage to Mr. Tuttle’s presence, but it is more difficult to formulate an idea of deeper meaning in the hair and the toaster in particular.  DeLillo had taken such care to describe them in the opening scene that it is impossible to miss them when they pop up again.  The hair could be taken merely as another cue of it meaning something–and as with the noise, it did turn out that the man was in the house somehow while Rey was still alive.

Curiouser and Curiouser.

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