The renowned author’s first story collection presents a chronological progression of nine narratives, organized into three parts, challenging readers to make connections.
Though DeLillo’s legacy rests with his longer work, building to the epic scope and scale of Underworld (1997), this collection feels more like his more recent novels—short, elliptical, suggestive, provocative. He originally published the opening story, “Creation,” in 1979, but hasn’t published a whole lot of stories since. Some of what were originally published as stories, such as the one that gives this volume its title, have subsequently been reworked into novels (as “Angel” was into Underworld), while other published stories have not been selected for inclusion here. So the reader starts with questions, as always with DeLillo. Why these stories, grouped into these three parts? Is the organizing principle thematic, or stylistic, or is it possible to separate the two within the writing of America’s premier post-modernist? Often the characters are unnamed, as in “Baader-Meinhof” (2002), in which a chance encounter between two unemployed people at an art exhibition—with politically charged images of imprisonment, torture, corpses—leads to an unusual connection that one of them finds disturbing. Somewhat similarly, though this time the protagonist has a name, “The Starveling” (2011) finds two people making an unlikely, tenuous connection through their obsessive routines of seeing a series of movies at multiple theaters daily, though the relationship between the two only seems to exist in the mind of one of them. The title story (1994) provides the book’s centerpiece, with its glimpses of the holy amid the ubiquity of the profane, within a ravaged Bronx detailed in prose of terrible beauty. In “The Runner” (1988), the unnamed protagonist muses, after witnessing an accident, “The car, the man, the mother, the child. Those are the parts. But how do the parts fit together?” Readers often might find themselves wondering the same, but part of what distinguishes DeLillo’s work is the way in which he engages the world rather than settling for the literary parlor tricks of some virtuoso experimentalists.
Completists will search for clues in this slight but rich volume to the maturation of DeLillo’s artistry.