Christian Lorentzen (Vulture) asks if critics have judged DeLillo too harshly in light of his success

KERTESZ_1972_World_Trade_Center_800px-don-delilloHave we held Don DeLillo’s Underworld against him? Masterpieces of an epic scale are a tricky business, not least for the distorting effect they can have on the rest of a writer’s works. Tolstoy wrote two, but most mortals — Melville, George Eliot, Joyce — only get one. And while War and Peace and Anna Karenina cycle through screen adaptations, how many readers reach for a major minor work — a work of beauty but of limited scope — like The Kreutzer Sonata? The same question already applies to Zero K, DeLillo’s new novel. “In recent years,” James Wolcott wrote in his memoir Lucking Out, “DeLillo must ask himself the cosmic question, ‘Why go on?,’ his later novels greeted with a fish-face without a trace of affection for everything he’s done before, beating him up with his own achievements (Libra, Underworld) instead.”

“Have we held Don DeLillo’s Underworld against him? Masterpieces of an epic scale are a tricky business, not least for the distorting effect they can have on the rest of a writer’s works”

Underworld was a finalist for the 1997 Pulitzer and the National Book Award (which DeLillo had collected for White Noise in 1985; his acceptance speech then: “I’m sorry I couldn’t be here tonight, but I thank you all for coming”). Underworld lost both — the NBA to Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain; the Pulitzer to Philip Roth’s American Pastoral — but since his 1999 Jerusalem Prize he’s picked up most of the lifetime achievement awards not bestowed in Stockholm or London, and in 2006 Underworld placed second to Toni Morrison’s Beloved in a New York Times Book Review poll on the best American fiction of the past quarter century. If the poll were held today, Beloved, published in 1987, would have aged out of the running, and Underworld’s stiffest competition would be from novels written under DeLillo’s spell: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. My vote is for the master. (more…)

The American writer tells Guardian Live audience how his vast novel developed

don-delillo-underworld“It was a fairly modest undertaking at first,” Don DeLillo told the Guardian live event, explaining how his 827-page novel came to be. “It was a novella – I assumed perhaps 50, 60 pages … I had an idea based on a newspaper headline that I saw when I realised it was 3 October 1991, the 40th anniversary of this famous game.” Visiting a local library to check the microfilm archive, he found that the front page of the New York Times was split perfectly in two, one half reporting the Giants’ win and the other the Soviet Union’s explosion of its first nuclear bomb. “So there it was, and once I saw it there was no escape.” (more…)

Rafe Bartholomew (Grantland) talks to the American writer about the prologue of Underworld, and the influence of ‘the shot heard round the world’ to his landmark novel

In honor of the 60th anniversary of Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” National Book Award-winning author Don DeLillo answered some of Grantland’s questions about writing, baseball, and the historic 1951 New York Giants-Brooklyn Dodgers Game 3 that ended with Thomson’s home run. The prologue to DeLillo’s novel Underworld is set at Game 3.

don-delillo-pafko-at-the-wall-novella-underworld
Don DeLillo, Pafko at the Wall: The Shot Heard Round the World

Can you explain how Underworld came together? The prologue was first published as a novella, “Pafko at the Wall,” in Harper’s Magazine in 1992, but Underworld wasn’t released until 1997. When you wrote Pafko were you already planning to use that scene as the beginning of a long novel?

One day in October 1991, I learned from a newspaper story that this day marked the fortieth anniversary of a famous baseball game played in New York, in the old Polo Grounds, Giants vs. Dodgers. The event was located somewhere at the far reaches of memory, mine and many other people’s. But some lingering aura persisted and finally sent me to the library, where I discovered news that startled me: on that same October day, the U.S. government announced that the Soviet Union had recently exploded an atomic bomb. The two events seemed oddly matched, at least to me, two kinds of conflict, local and global rivalries. In time I went to work on what I believed would be a long story and at some point well into the enterprise I began to suspect that the narrative of the ballgame and the atomic test wanted to be extended — well into the last decades of the Twentieth Century. I was eager to make the leap. (more…)

Some interesting parallels between the prophetic American writer and the AMC period drama

Anticipating the release of his 2010 novel, Point Omega, The Sunday Times interviewed Don DeLillo about his life and work, exploring some the American author’s ‘writing tics’, and making note of his contemporary relevance.

Mad-Men-image-AMC-cast.jpg

The article mentions AMC’s period drama Mad Men (which aired from 2007 to 2015), and it’s easy to see why it shares key thematic links with DeLillo’s work. Set in a New York advertising firm in the early 1960s, the show explores the consumerist manufacture of American aspirations with a sharp and ironic detachment. It has skillfully addressed the Kennedy assassination in a media climate of Cold War anxiety, and includes a cast of characters struggling with personal neuroses and societal repression. (more…)

View this post on Instagram

Pynchon, DeLillo, Atwood, Dostoyevsky, DeLillo.

A post shared by Rhys Tranter (@rhys.tranter) on

Alberto Comparini (LARB) reviews a new study of the novel-essay and its place in modernity
“Hybrid genres,” and the questionable orthodoxy of traditional genres, are subjects that continue to vex literary theory. Consider Joris-Karl Huysmans’s Against Nature, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and Doctor Faustus, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, or Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities: What do these novels share? What kind of novels are they? Are these books truly novels, or are they another form altogether?

(more…)

state-of-fiction-don-delillo-conference-sussex

10 June 2015 • University of Sussex

“Writing also means trying to advance the art. Fiction hasn’t quite been filled in or done in or worked out. We make our small leaps.”Don DeLillo, 1982

Keynote Speaker: John Duvall (Purdue University)

This one-day conference will address the state of fiction in contemporary American culture by focusing on the extensive oeuvre of Don DeLillo, from the 1970s to the present day and beyond. Shortly after the publication of The Names, DeLillo commented that fiction had not yet been ‘filled in,’ ‘done in,’ or ‘worked out.’ How do we read this thirty years later, in the shadow of not only DeLillo’s major works but also the events that have characterised our move into the Twenty-First Century? How have DeLillo’s small leaps between the New York of Players (1977) and the New York of Falling Man (2007) ‘filled in’ fiction? Has DeLillo’s pervasive influence across contemporary American culture ‘done in’ postmodernism? Is the novel in the Twenty First Century already ‘worked out’? (more…)

Why read a ‘difficult’ book?
Emily Temple (Flavorwire) has compiled a list of ’50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers’. Their toughness varies from the sheer bulk of the volume (eg. Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Stein’s The Making of Americans), to their stylistic virtuosity (Finnegans Wake, anyone?). But despite their daunting reputations, there can be something special about reading a ‘difficult’ book.

(more…)