LAID DEAD by Barry Cork


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 With a formidable body of work behind him, DeLillo has earned the reflexive musings of this heady portrait of an obsessed and reclusive writer -- a novelist haunted by the corruptions of an image-dominated world, and hunted by those who would deny him the eloquence of silence. Two early books have brought Bill Gray both Salinger-like acclaim and enough royalties to live as obscurely as Pynchon, which he does in upstate New York, with a younger assistant named Scott, an alter-ego who attends to all his worldly needs, and maintains the massive Gray archive, including the much rewritten work-in- progress. Unsure whether to publish again, Gray decides to give the world an image instead and poses for a Swedish photographer named Brita, whom Scott escorts to Gray's hideaway with all the caution of visiting an elusive terrorist. And that's the point. Gray has retreated into silence as a way of creating ``force'' and ``myth,'' but only the terrorist has the real power these days, the ability to shape and influence events, ``to make raids on the human consciousness.'' When the news satisfies our need for narrative, the terrorist becomes the most important player, and the artist has one other choice besides retreat: He can, like Warhol, feed our addiction to imagery. Or so Gray contends. But events conspire to draw him into the real world of terror when a planned public reading in London -- in support of a hostage in Lebanon -- unravels into a murkier plot, propelled by Gray himself. With a deadly liver ailment, he sets off for Beirut, the ``millennial image mill.'' But instead of affecting history in some small way, he manages to disappear in an image of total anonymity. Back home, Scott maintains the status quo with the help of his spacey girlfriend Karen, a former Moonie who understands that messianism is the key to survival, that the crowd is the engendering trope of our time. DeLillo's edgy characters speak ``the uninventable poetry, inside the pain, of what people say''; his talking heads murmur the mysteries of our age. For all its ``cool gloom,'' his latest novel stands in denial of Gray's doom-drenched semiotics: it's a luminous book, full of anger deflected into irony, with moments of hard- earned transcendence.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-684-19302-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1991