Mao II

ISBN: 0140152741
ISBN 13: 9780140152746
By: Don DeLillo

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About this book

"One of the most intelligent, grimly funny voices to comment on life in present-day America" (The New York Times), Don DeLillo presents an extraordinary new novel about words and images, novelists and terrorists, the mass mind and the arch-individualist. At the heart of the book is Bill Gray, a famous reclusive writer who escapes the failed novel he has been working on for many years and enters the world of political violence, a nightscape of Semtex explosives and hostages locked in basement rooms. Bill's dangerous passage leaves two people stranded: his brilliant, fixated assistant, Scott, and the strange young woman who is Scott's lover--and Bill's.

Reader's Thoughts

Alan Chen

I really like the way the novel began: Bill is a reclusive writer a la J.D. Salinger, Scott his uber fan turn secretary and Karen the ex-moonie are 3 people who live together and are interdependent upon each other. Their back stories are fleshed out when Brita comes to photograph the author. It begins with Delillo's usual quirkiness but seems to go in a traditional narrative where the story expands as we get to know the characters and we develop a sense of who these people are. Then, in a little past the middle of the novel Bill takes off on it's own and the rest of the novel becomes much more experimental fiction. Bill becomes ever more zany and there's a crazy plot by some leftists in Beirut where they seek attention by capturing a writer and Bill decides to go to take his place of him. Karen wanders off in New York and waxes philosophical while acting like she's on psychedelics and Scott becomes OCD in creating lists while waiting for Bill to come back. I'm annoyed that the main characters I enjoy so much in the first half of the book become, well weird, without any foundating-building that led up to it. I still enjoyed the novel, I appreciate Delillo for his style and big ideas, hence the 4-stars. If someone is going to ramble about the human psyche I rather it be a talent like his. "Fear has it's own ego, hasn't it?""We all know how the thing we secretly fear is not a secret at all but the open and eternal thing that predicts its own recurrence."

Robby Wouters

Just like Underworld, starts of with an insanely good prologue, but falls flat halfway through. Very unfortunate. Delillo shoots his wad too early, and once his point is made, not much is left..

WordsBeyondBorders

Images, both static and moving have been a recurrent motif with Don DeLillo. (In many of his works you have a character seeing the grainy images on TV with the volume turned down in a dark room) .In 'Mao II', he combines them with the themes of cults, crowds and creates a disturbing and unsettling work. Bill Gray, author of 2 acclaimed books has been living as a recluse for the last 20 odd years. Working on a uncompleted novel the whole time, never satisfied with his output, living in a secluded place in anonymity, a place haunted by words, Bill himself is possessed by words that occupy his entire existence but seem to elude him the more he tries to grasp them to make sense of his novel and indeed his life. One of his pet peeves about the position of novelists in society is"There's a curious knot that binds novelists and terrorists.Years ago I used to think it was possible for a novelist to alter the inner life of the culture. Now bomb-makers and gunmen have taken that territory. They make raids on human consciousness. What writers used to do before we were all incorporated."Living with him are Scott his assistant who was a restless wanderer until he read Bill's works and managed to track him down and Karen, a former member of a religious cult, now deprogrammed. All 3 of them are restless in their own way and have formed a curious bond that enables them to live together in anonymity. This spell is broken when Brita a photographer whose mission to photograph as much writers as possible, is allowed to take photos of Bill. During the photo session she passes on a message from Bill's old friend which sets of a train of events which results in the unraveling of their lives, including Brita.DeLillo's works are as much about ideas as they are about the characters and their motivations, indeed in some cases the ideas are what drive the novel. Here he brings together visuals, crowds and cults which may seem disparate at first glance but are actually linked closely together. When one talks of cult whether it is religious, terrorists, or sports based, they are all recognized by a leader. What better way to imprint the leader into the consciousnesses of the cult members other than photos or television images. Once the images are imprinted, the cult swells and becomes a crowd and there is a loss of individualism. DeLillo shows us searing images of huge crowds, whether it be in the funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini, or at Tienanmen square, the mass wedding in the prologue or the thousands of homeless at a park that Karen sees each of them has the power to shift our perspectives. An to prove the power of visuals, the crowds at the Khomeini funeral and Tienanmen square are see in the television, but they still have the power to move you and as Karen wonders"..if millions watched, if these millions matched the number on the Iranian plain, doesn't it mean we share something with the mourners, know an anguish, feel something pass between us, hear the sigh of some historic grief?"These words published in 1992, makes even more sense now when we feel a pain shared with the mourners of school shooting thousands of miles away from where we are. In novels like these where ideas play a predominant role, it is easy for the novelist to go overboard and the entire book and it's characters to become a playground for his rants and pet peeves, but Delillo avoids these pitfalls. Make no mistake, you can sense his voice throughout his novel, but not in a way that puts you off the book and that's because he gives his characters enough emotional heft to be visible to us and make us feel for them as much as we feel for their (Delillo) ideas. Whether it be the restlessness of Bill, his anger at the downgrading of the importance of novelists (as he sees it), his doubts about own work, afraid where the work is leading him to are all as important as his ideas. Like when Bill feels"He had a foreboding, the little clinging tightness in the throat that he knew so well from his work, the times he was afraid and hemmed in by doubt, knowing there was something up ahead he didn't want to face, a character, a life he thought he could not handle."we get an idea of the fear that a writer feels when he thinks that the book or a character is getting away from his control and taking a life of it's own, wanting to live on it's own terms rather than that of the creator. And when Bill goes off on a dangerous attempt into a hostage situation it makes sense in view of his earlier comparison about novelists and terrorists and hence it doesn't come across as something that has been put in the book just for effect. Similarly we empathize and understand (or try to) Scott binding himself with Bill, his obsession with organizing everything to make Bill's work as easy as possible so that he can concentrate on his writing alone. That's why when Scott stays alone in their house after Bill and Karen leave, working on meaningless organization of the house and papers is as poignant as the experiences of Karen where there is a whole chapter devoted to the homeless community living in a New York park, a multitude of crowds living in destitute, an old lady even living under plastic covers. DeLillo's writing is nuanced and it's not just the imagery that he conjures that takes our breath. He can also take a mostly ignored fleeting moment and give it a concrete form, like when Bill is waiting for Brita and Scott to come, the house is completely silent and"When they got out and walked to the porch steps he went to the door of his workroom and listened to them stamp their feet on the mat and come in downstairs, mingled voices, the ruffle of people entering a house, shaking of coats, making all the incidental noises of transition, the sigh of the full body, homeyness and deep relief, the way it seemed a danger and a lie."All of us have experienced this moment, when we open the door and enter a silent house, the murmur of voices and the manner in which the house seems to wake up after a deep slumber. But it takes a DeLillo to point it out to us. A line or a phrase to elevate a thought and realms that we never thought was possible or even existed. Take what Britta says about New York"Sick and dying people with nowhere to live and there are bigger and bigger towers all the time, fantastic buildings with miles of rentable space."Now this is a standard line where one points out the inequality in society. I am not disputing the validity of the statement but it's something most people could write. Now read the same paragraph with the line that follows."Sick and dying people with nowhere to live and there are bigger and bigger towers all the time, fantastic buildings with miles of rentable space. All the space is inside. "The last line throws a googly at a us and creates a seeming paradox. Theoretically there is space everywhere, it is infinite and we occupy space, but DeLillo says that all the space is inside. Which is true when we take space to only refer to a standard human habitat suitable for living and not 'space' as a concept. From that point of view, we see that millions are homeless (i.e) without space while the space for living is all inside the homes.The novel ends with Brita travelling to Beirut to take picture of Rashid, a revolutionary leader there, but it's like the novel is starting again. Rashid a leader of people (cult, crowds) is to be photographed (maybe after a long time just like Bill) and this photo would perpetuate and imprint his memory into the minds of his followers (cult, crowds), even if he is no more. This novel requires your patience, to make sense of the imagery, the characters, the prose which is subtle enough to be ignored if we are distracted for even a bit. At no point does the novel opens up to us from the readability point of view, there is no concession given to us and we have to be relentless in forging ahead keeping our eyes (and ears) open for what DeLillo will tell us next. This is not your ideal first DeLillo book, that would be Americana. This book is to read when you have an idea of his works and motifs so you have an idea of what to expect.

Mike Wojciechowski

There's a memorable comparison between terror and novels. It's sort of how a sci-fi film/book from the 70s/80s gets some things eerily right about the future but not all the pieces are exactly there. Maybe I find the terrorist/writer connection kinda offensive but it's still interesting and challenging. Really rare for a little idea like this to be so difficult to process, especially in the midst of a narrative without many other direct comparisons. It's also a little grating b/c it's also one of those clear post-modern meta conversations where the characters become depthless devices for the author to make a point about something instead of characters in a book. The conversation trails off after the portion I've included and never comes back into context."For some time now, I've had the feeling that novelists and terrorists are playing a zero-sum game.""Interesting. How so?""What terrorists gain, novelists lose. The degree to which they influence mass consciousness is the extent of our decline as shapers of sensibility and thought. The danger they represent equals our own failure to be dangerous.""And the more clearly we see terror, the less impact we feel from art.""I think the relationship is intimate and precise insofar as such things can be measured.""Very nice indeed.""You think so?""Completely marvelous.""Beckett is the last writer to shape the way we think and see. After him, the major work involves midair explosions and crumbled buildings. This is the new tragic narrative.""And it's difficult when they kill and maim because you see them, honestly now, as the only possible heroes for our time.""No," Bill said."The way they live in the shadows, live willingly with death. The way they hate many of the things you hate. Their discipline and cunning. The coherence of their lives. The way they excite, they excite admiration. In societies reduced to blur and glut, terror is the only meaningful act. There's too much everything, more things and messages and meanings that we can use in ten thousand lifetimes. Inertia-hysteria. Is history possible? Is anyone serious? Who do we take seriously? Only the lethal believer, the person who kills and dies for faith. Everything else is absorbed. The artists is absorbed, the madman in the street is absorbed and processed and incorporated. Give him a dollar, put him in a TV commercial. Only the terrorist stands outside. The culture hasn't figured out how to assimilate him. It's confusing when they kill the innocent. But this is precisely the language of being noticed, the only language the West understands. The way they determine how we see them. The way they dominate the rush of endless streaming images. I said in London, Bill. It's the novelist who understands the secret life, the rage that underlies all obscurity and neglect. You're half-murderers, most of you."

Aidan Watson-Morris

I saw a photograph of a wedding conducted by Reverend Moon of the Unification Church and it was just lying around for months . . . a wedding in Seoul in a soft-drink warehouse, about 13,000 people. And when I looked at it again, I realized I wanted to understand this event, and the only way to understand it was to write about it. For me, writing is a concentrated form of thinking. And I had another photograph -- it was a picture that appeared on the front page of The New York Post, in the summer, I think, of 1988, and it was a photograph of J. D. Salinger. They sent two photographers to New Hampshire, to stalk him. It took them six days, but they found him. And they took his picture. He saw them and they saw him. When they took his picture he came at them. His face is an emblem of shock and rage. It's a frightening photograph. I didn't know it at the time, but these two pictures would represent the polar extremes of "Mao II," the arch individualist and the mass mind, from the mind of the terrorist to the mind of the mass organization. In both cases, it's the death of the individual that has to be accomplished before their aims can be realized.- don delillo, courtesy of the new york times the future belongs to crowds.i wanted to like this when i was reading it, after an impulse buy thinking it would be delillo's action thriller, & was of course disappointed. now i think i love it.it's a matter of verisimilitude. if you can buy into delillo's world, which, despite its grounding in historical fact, is not easy to do if you're more on the realist side of the spectrum, it's much easier to appreciate his contemplations on eg the individual versus the collective. if you can accept the bizarre, oft self-parodic world of delillo's characters as real, you can immerse yourself in the pages & pages of circular dialogue & visceral prose, mesmerized. if not, it more than likely comes across as plodding & pretentious.it's why, i think, white noise is so lacking in subtlety (though this critique i've always found to be misguided). delillo's not a sloppy craftsman, as is evidenced in his rhythmic prose & hypnotic imagery, but he must've known that his message couldn't be communicated properly in a simple, story-centric way that would contradict his stance on how nuance is brushed over by media saturation, so instead his employment of chimeric genre-parodies satirized the simplicity of sensationalism (which isn't the same as lazy storytelling, since he leaves much of the nuance intact, just implicit), without ever losing a sense of compassion for his characters.mao ii represents, in a sense, delillo receding into his own world--like the reclusive author it stars--without as many handholds for the reader. you either willingly dive headfirst into a novel where the conventional standards of a novel--triangular plot, sense of resolution, halfway normal character relationships--are all but ignored or find the water a bit too cold. there's also those who don't quite know how to swim yet--i'd count myself among them--& find delillo's writing occasionally bordering on meaninglessness.i've read reviews saying that he has the post-modernist goal of taking language past the limits of meaning, which would leave me a little cold too, but in mao ii, i think it's more appropriate to say that when things do lose their meaning in the mouths of his characters, it's an illustration of something--the death of the individual in both the context of the radical extremist & the mass mind, the loss of the writer's power in the face of political terror, the function of celebrity as a means of personal manipulation. the seemingly underdeveloped character dynamics are an exploration of futile attempts at solipsism or vanity (maybe to say that they're the same thing), which is what i think what pynchon's referring to w/r/t delillo's 'moral focus.'ultimately though, what's great about delillo - & what i overlooked, somehow, the first time round, with this one - is that his descriptions of even trivial scenes are evocative, vivid & incisive. he can imbue meaning to the smallest of details without losing his sense of humor. the proof is in the profundity....and it made his heart shake to hear these things in the street or bus or dime store, the uninventable poetry, inside the pain, of what people say.

Rick Bowen

Icy and brilliant. I recall being dazzled by the opening set piece "At Yankee Stadium." As always in DeLillo novels the ideas run far ahead of the characters. Except for the first part he's not in dark comic mode as he was in White Noise. Nevertheless, a short, insightful work chronicling our collective Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Second string DeLillo is enough to make it one of the best reads of the 90s. Go get it. Before it's too late.

Mark Sacha

The most simple way to read DeLillo is to approach his characters' prophecies as direct addresses to the reader, statements made on the meaning of the text in which they appear. Clearly Don intends us to take these ideas seriously, but I'm not convinced he wants us to accept them automatically. His major characters are often satirical archetypes - the media executive, the financial executive, the assassin, the college professor, and here, the reclusive writer - and the things they say, revealing and surprising as they often are, resemble a kind of metacommentary on their roles, their expected beliefs and behaviors or at least the way that society responds to them. I think that one can disagree with Don's printed ideas without disagreeing with his texts, since their meanings are more dependent on their contexts than on their arguments per se. In Mao II, Bill Gray equates novelists (or certain novelists such as himself) to terrorists, in terms that are suspiciously similar to DeLillo's own statements in an interview with the Paris Review. One can either agree or disagree with this idea, but apart from this binary valuation, its real worth lies in how it stimulates thought about how ideas affect the people who receive them , and who has the power to disseminate them. While the terrorist statement that comes blatantly out of Gray's mouth functions as a shock, there are other, more edifying connections. Mao, it is said, was something of a literary leader, one whose Little Red Book was distributed and consumed as gospel, and who was a professed believer in so-called thought reform. Then there is the ubiquity of his image, like the nonstop assaults of commercial advertising, an insight famously made by Warhol in the prints that adorn the cover of DeLillo's book.Other examples abound, but the ultimate message here seems to be about mass consciousness, the hivemind of crowds. In his most effective scenes, DeLillo presents an event, such as a mass marriage of a religious sect or a televised ordeal of carnage and grief over the death of a revered leader, without giving his readers any clear indication of what to think about them. He selects the images, but refrains from interpreting them. The effect is poignant - how is one to interpret many of the things that occur on this planet? How can we account for the things we do individually, much less in numbers, without a definite awareness that we are in fact taking part? More than anything, DeLillo invites us to wonder where it's all headed. Even he doesn't have the answer, or if he does, he takes a lot of pleasure in teasing us with it.

Anthony

Plot-wise, the back cover tells us MAO II is the story of reclusive author Bill Gray who, stuck for years now on a failed novel, is inspired to leave his reclusive life and become involved in a group's attempts to get a French poet released from hostage captivity in Beirut. Bill's sudden change in attitude is brought on by an encounter with a world-renowned photographer, and his actions leave his obsessive-compulsive assistant Scott and Scott's girlfriend Karen at a loss for what to do while waiting for Bill's return to what they consider normalcy.That's the plot, but the book is "about" something larger. It took me a few days after reading the book to figure out exactly what that larger thing is. Ultimately, I think, the book is about the Cult of Personality. DeLillo litters the book with references to Andy Warhol, to Chairman Mao, to the Ayatollah Khomeini. Anyone who fails to draw at least a surface connection between Bill Gray and J.D. Salinger just isn't paying attention. Scott is concerned that Bill's reputation and reprint rights are based on what people think he is up to in his seclusion, and that if he publishes this latest novel (failed or not, we never really get to see the contents) people will no longer be intrigued. The French poet is held hostage by a Communist terrorist building a following in Beirut, whose followers give up their own identities to be a part of his. Even the photographer, Brita, builds her career around a sort of cult: she travels the world photographing writers almost exclusively.The opening section of the book, which focuses on Karen and takes place at the Mass Wedding lead by the Rev. Moon at Yankees Stadium, almost lost me. DeLillo bounces between at least three (that I could count) distinct points of view, sometimes in mid-paragraph, and the feeling I had by the end of the section was that this work was going to be too pretentious, too arty for me. Had the rest of the book continued in that vein, I might not have been able to finish it. Happily (for me), the remainder of the book is written a bit more traditionally. Actually, it becomes a bit heavy on the dialogue side for a while -- characters jumping on various soap-boxes and rambling, dissembling, reminiscing, pontificating. At first, the penchant for characters to spout non-sequiturs bothered me, but ultimately that's what real conversations are like, aren't they? So DeLillo does capture that aspect of real life, even if some of his diatribes go on a bit long. He also does a nice job of allowing we, the readers, to see where all of the characters ultimately end up even if the characters themselves have lost track of each other.I can't say that MAO II has inspired me to rush out and start reading everything Don DeLillo has ever written, but I am glad I made the effort to read the book.

Paige

forget it.

Anmol Goel

Mao II: One for the Crowds or Best Left Alone? Mao II, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1992, is Don Delillo’s tenth novel. Readers of previous Don Delillo works, like White Noise, know that Don Delillo is a specialist of unsettling atmospheres. To me, the most unsettling of them all was the dark attic that contained all of the different parts of the books, from chapters of books stowed away in large boxes, and in the lone corner of the room, with a lantern and a typewriter the main character, a famous recluse named Bill Gray, who thinks that he is finished—as a writer. I appreciated the main conflict of this book, the ideas of a terrorist are easier to receive than an author's ideas, but the way Delillo decides to write Mao II leads to some jarring transitions. There are also some similarities between Delillo and Bill. Both use a typewriter and work for hours at a time and then break in between. Delillo also writes in solitude, with a quiet house. His typed drafts pile up around the house, for him to look back at a beastly scrawl at the bottom of a sheet. The first draft of his book, Libra sits in ten manuscript boxes; he likes to discard sentences as much as he finds joy in creating them. Two years prior to the writing of this book, in 1989, New York Post ambushed J.D. Salinger, Delillo used Salinger’s photo and a photo of the Unification Blessing Ceremony and said to Vince Passaro, “I didn’t know it at the time, but these two photos are the extremes of “Mao II,” the arch individualist and the mass mind, from the mind of the terrorist, to the mind of the mass organization. In both cases, it’s the death of the individual that has to be accomplished before their aims can be realized.” The last sentence of the prologue, “The future belongs to the crowds.” reveals a main theme that runs throughout the entire book. One of the main characters Scott believes that if Bill Gray were to release this book to the masses, the “real” Bill Gray would be lost and the book would also lose some meaning. The way that Delillo emphasizes this is by introducing crowds throughout the book. He uses crowds to show how they can corrupt as well as augment someone's personality. In fact, the first scene of the Unification Ceremony in the prologue introduces a major character, Bill's second assistant Karen, as well as some major themes in the book. The thousands stand and chant. Around them in the world, people ride escalators going up and down and sneak secret glances at the faces coming down. People dangle teabags over hot water in white cups... People bind themselves into numbered seats and fly across time zones and high cirrus and deep night, knowing that there is something they've forgotten to do. The future belongs to the crowds (16.)The imagery in this book is absolutely fantastic, it was like I could see these scenes play out in front of me. But there are some bad things about this smorgasbord of imagery. Now while I did enjoy reading this, the spontaneity in which Delillo switches ideas is very unsettling, like the novel itself, and it has led me to reread parts of the book and try and decipher the postmodern code that Delillo wants to write in. Maybe it is because he read comic books as a child, so “[He has] no storytelling drive, a drive to follow a certain kind of narrative rhythm.” Delillo says in an interview.This is not a book that will flatter the reader. Anyone who wants a book that succeeds in over-the-top imagery that will leave the reader questioning reality and whether being famous really is a good thing, should read this book.

Jonathan

Mao II tells the very postmodern story of a postmodern writer, his postmodern assistant who keeps the old man afloat, and the very postmodern pyschoward who lives with both the men and once got hitched in a mass-marriage ceremony while a member of the Unification Church.Bill, the writer, is a recluse; did I mention that? Yea, he’s like your Thomas Pynchon/Salinger type writer who loves being far away from anyone and everyone. Well one day Bill is photographed by a photojournalist named Brita. And well, you know, stuff happens from there. This whole plot is spliced with musings on idolization of world leaders, the horde mentality, writing, death (lots of death), and themes in DeLillo’s transcendent prose.Don’t be mislead by the flippancy; I really enjoyed this novel. I really enjoyed the writing style, the characters and trying to figure out just what in the heck DeLillo is getting at here, and I really like DeLillo (it’s no Underworld though). I know the preceding sentence seemed like a paragraph from a high school lit-term paper, but I don’t apologize cuz I read the book

Holly

I'm in kind of a DeLillo hangover, where the images and ideas are still raw in my brain, and they kind of hurt, but I am better for having read them. In Mao II, DeLillo delves into the world of a renowned author and later links him to terrorism, drawing a comparison between writers and terrorists as societal participants. He is also concerned with the crowd as a cultural function or force. DeLillo's cultural commentary is prescient and spot-on. His observations are unspoken universal truths and when coupled with his incredible, dense imagery, they are discomforting, to the point that at times I had to put the book down and take a breath to curb physical manifestations of anxiety. Yeah, his dialogue is stilted, but that has never bothered me that much. To me, it is meta-dialogue, dialectical in function. I can't describe the effect DeLillo has on me, except to say that he makes me look at the world differently.

Dan

I once read an interview with DeLillo, where he claimed that he often liked to change or rearrange words in his sentences for the sound or effect it created, even if it ended up changing the meaning of the sentence entirely. For me, this just smacks of irresponsibility for someone held in such high literary esteem, and demonstrates his overriding pretentiousness as a novelist.The characters in this novel speak without any realism, seeming to communicate only in profound aphorisms to pound home the message of the book, and not one of them is at all likeable. I struggled on with it until I got about two-thirds of the way through, when I realised that I didn't care about any of them, or anything that happened to them, and thus it would be pointless to continue reading. Even when I skipped to the end to find out the fate of the "reclusive writer" Bill Gray, I still wasn't at all moved.The only reason I picked up this book in the first place was because I'd heard the character was based on JD Salinger, but then Salinger's own work has so far failed to grab me in any real way, so maybe that should have been an indicator. I have yet to read a good book by DeLillo, though I have since seen worse examples of his work in "The Body Artist" - and I know it's a minor point, but Bill Gray, as a character name? Surely someone of DeLillo's stature can come up with something a little more imaginative than that...

Gregory Frye

This is a strange book. Valuable truths and insights. Existentialism before plot. Pregnant sentences before plot. Of course, you don't read Don DeLillo necessarily for plot, do you? Not to say there is no plot. You read him because he is a master of the craft, his sentences are whispers in your ear. In your heart. This is how good novels are supposed to be. With enough room for interpretation. Like a poem about recluse writers who don't want to publish anymore, terrorists weary of Western influence, Mao Zedong from guerrilla wilderness tactics to complete, uniform revolution free of outside voices. Echoes from that Beatles song, pop hiss of analog sound. Picture Chairman Mao. What would Andy Warhol say?

Lara Messersmith-Glavin

I feel very safe when I read Delillo. I know I am going somewhere worthwhile, and I know that I can trust him to get me there smoothly and gently, that the time will pass and the journey and destination and details will all be taken care of. This novel is, by turns, deeply real and entirely metaphysical, an eloquent portrait of a small collection of individuals and individual drives and pains, and an entirely artificial means for Delillo to explore principles of art and meaning-making within the frame of larger political realities. It is a meditation on charismatic power and the function of literature in contemporary society, among other things.I have heard that Delillo flirts with radical ideologies but rarely espouses them directly, preferring instead to allow their language and intentions to creep from the mouths of characters here and there. I was fascinated by those elements in this book - so potentially (falsely?) autobiographical at times. It is always dangerous to write about a writer, as all readers will secretly assume they see into the author him/herself. I think it is more likely, more useful, to see all characters, all situations, as products of the writer's mind, but not necessarily theses, not direct representations of belief or conviction, but merely maps of where that mind has been, seen in reflections and echoes and opposites.Delillo's writer, Bill Gray - a character struggling with the nearly stereotypical writerly miseries of solipsism, doubt, and hatred of one's own work - has internalized the idea that writers are obsolete in the contemporary world. He decides that writers no longer hold the power to alter society's consciousness, cannot speak loudly enough or radically enough to create or catalyze change. Instead, the role of true belief and action has been taken over by the political concept of terror. Terrorists have become the only genuine voices of conviction and ideals that the world will listen to.This idea is played out through a series of lucid and unlikely events that take on the glow and enchantment of one-act plays. Each is firmly rooted in the ground of the text, but has a meditative and inevitable quality that brings the reader in and out of the plot, rising and sinking along a fine line of abstraction and solidity. The writing is beautiful and familiar, the characters recognizable and strange, set against a backdrop of late 1980s and early 90s political iconography, and a thin running thread of Mao.

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