Sunday, November 9, 2008

Boredom and Desperation in NYC

Don DeLillo is the author of the award winning “White Noise” and the recent best seller “Underworld”. Because I have often come across his name as one of our best contemporary writers I was interested in reading something he had written. I came across the short novel “Players” which was published in 1977. It was somewhat disconcerting to read this novel set in New York City in the 1970s. Pammy and Lyle Wynant are an attractive, affluent couple living in Manhattan who seem to have the perfect urban life. But Lyle and Pammy are besieged by boredom. Pammy “…hated her life. It was a minor thing though. A small bother.” Pammy works for the Grief Management Council, in the World Trade Center. From the height of her offices,"...she could detect the sweltering intensity (below), a slow roiling force. It moved up into the air, souls of the living.” In 2008 it is rather strange to read about the World Trade Center and souls of the living. Even stranger is the fact that Lyle works at the New York Stock Exchange, sees a man killed on the “floor”, and becomes involved with the terrorist group that is responsible for the man’s death.

Mr. DeLillo portrays his protagonists as zombies. Characters that do not feel. When Lyle gets involved with the terrorists by way of the “hot” secretary, Rosemary Moore, it feels surreal. He is going through the motions to feel something, to be part of something. Pammy leaves New York with their close friends, Jack and Ethan, a homosexual couple. When Pammy and Jack have sex on a secluded beach in Maine, it is so Pammy can feel something. When Jack kills himself, Pammy is again lost. After all that happens Lyle and Pammy remain “players” who are indifferent to the world around them, unable to feel.

Don DeLillo is a writer who is precise, witty and intelligent. His sentences and descriptions are stark. You easily understand that Don DeLillo can see a group, a generation, a type, and nail it in a few sentences. It is not surprising that this author has gone on to write award winning novels that have created a very large, faithful following.

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