...but if I like these writers, why should I be disappointed that they write like themselves? Perverse of me, really. Still, one would like to see a curveball now and again. Thank goodness for Ashbery.
Point Omega brings in again DeLillo's fascination with conceptual art (Underworld, The Body Artist, Falling Man). In its first and final chapters, we are at MOMA in 2006, taking in Douglas Gordon's 24 Hour Psycho (the iconic Hitchcock film projected so slowly that it takes twenty-four hours to screen the film) from the point of view of a strange, lonely, and (as it later appears) potentially homicidal young man (shades of Libra?). Also in the room for a few moments are Richard Elster, an intellectual formerly but no longer in the upper echelons of the Department of Defense, and Jim Finley, a young filmmaker who wants to make a documentary about Elster.
For most of the novel we are in the company of Elster and Finley, Elster waxing gnomically cosmic, Finley the ambitious disciple -- not unlike Bill Gray and Scott in Mao II, with Elster's daughter Jessie arriving presently to take the Karen role, sensitive young woman slightly out of phase with the world, haunted and haunting, dazed Cordelia to Elster's pontificating Lear.
Jessie disappears one day, leaving all her belongings behind. We never learn exactly what happened. Escaping Jim's creepy Norman-Bates-like tendency to peek into her room? Murdered by the Norman-Bates-like MOMA visitor? Lost a coin toss with Anton Chigurh?
I think it all works, though. The famous Janet Leigh shower scene, the slower-than-slow projection of which opens the novel, feels emblematic of the quintessential American fears of my lifetime. When we are in the midst of our daily routines, in the semi-autonomic performing the actions we habitually perform, made vulnerable by our own comfortable adjustment to the normal, is exactly when evil will strike -- or so we fear. We will be showering, and the murderer will yank back the shower curtain. We will be dropping the kids off at school, and the sexual predator will be lying in wait for the moment our back is turned. Or, one of the other kids will have brought a gun that day. We will be jogging in Central Park, and the gangs will be out wilding. We will be arriving from our commute to our workplace, and the terrorists will crash a jet airliner into it.
Psycho, Elster's mysterious role in the "war on terror," and Jessie's unexplained disappearance all seem to speak to how we, having achieved a level of wealth, security, and comfort scarcely imaginable to previous generations, find ourselves paralyzed in a nightmare of vulnerability.
All very DeLillian, but in the best possible way. His prose is still strong, the scenes in the desert especially:
I looked out into the blinding tides of light and sky and down toward the folded copper hills that I took to be the badlands, a series of pristine ridges rising from the desert floor in patterned alignment. Could someone be dead in there? I could not imagine this. It was too vast, it was not real, the symmetry of furrows and juts, it crushed me, the heartbreaking beauty of it, the indifference of it, and the longer I stood and looked the more certain I was that we would never have an answer. (93)