DeLillo: the master of American modern fiction

By Kimberly Richardson
“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 wide-swayed web.”

From that masterful opening paragraph we are invited into the world of Rey, a filmmaker married to a young artist named Lauren, in the surrealistic, stream of consciousness novel The Body Artist by Don DeLillo. At that moment we see them enjoying their breakfast in their coastal rental home, but the attention lies with how the two interact with one another. Do they love or hate each other, or are they experiencing an emotion that none of us have felt yet? This is the last time we see Rey, for once he finishes his breakfast and grabs his keys, we later learn that he commits suicide, leaving Lauren alone in their rental house. Or is she? Strange noises are heard in the house followed by strange feelings wrapped in loneliness, anger, and sadness. Suddenly an ageless man appears, speaking in riddles while mimicking her and her dead husband’s tone of voice and movements. Was he always there spying on the couple, or is he something else? Through the interaction between Lauren and Mr. Tuttle, as she calls the man, she questions her self, her sanity, and even her relationship with her late husband.

This was my first time reading Don DeLillo, and for the most part I was impressed. I have heard people call him the master of American modern fiction, and now I understand why. While I enjoyed this slim work, I felt that perhaps the surrealistic moments and stream of consciousness thoughts that Lauren felt and Mr. Tuttle spoke of seemed forced and heaped on to a level that not even the most discerning reader could enjoy and process. Surreal fiction is hard to pin down and enjoy unless one has the mental patience for it, and I could honestly see how many people could not enjoy The Body Artist. I even struggled between liking and disliking the book while reading it in two days. Although I am glad I read it, I wonder just why I did. Nevertheless, I do recommend this book, for Mr. DeLillo does a fine job in answering the question of what happens when a person is confronted with their inner shadow self. It is how he answers the question that makes me wonder somewhat.

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