This surpassingly eerie tale from the author of such contemporary classics as End Zone (1972), White Noise (1991), and Underworld (1997) artfully blends DeLillo’s characteristic themes of paranoia and disorientation with the allure of the old-fashioned ghost story.
The (literally) beleaguered protagonist is Lauren Hartke, a performance artist whose gift for conceiving and enacting aesthetically pleasing and meaningful poses overflows into her daily life (“She is always acting, always in the process of becoming another or exploring some root identity”). Following an opening (highly charged) breakfast-table conversation between Lauren and her husband, “dark” filmmaker Rey Robles, in the remote seaside house they’re renting, an obituary notice reports his suicide—and propels Lauren into a more intense (and, ironically, transformative) relationship with the empty, noise-filled home she refuses to leave. She finds a man living in an unused bedroom: a nameless shadow of a man who speaks in provocative incomplete sentences, repeating conversations she remembers, in both Rey’s voice and her own. Then, without warning, he disappears as inexplicably as he had appeared, having profoundly altered both Lauren’s art and her grip on reality. DeLillo deepens the enigma of this central action with several evocative images: a Japanese woman watering her garden; computer pictures of a lightly traveled highway in another country; birds gathering at an outdoor feeder (readers who remember Stephen King’s The Dark Half will half-understand what’s going on)—and in numerous limpid sentences that spell out the mingled seductiveness and terror of the everyday world Lauren moves in and out of (“ . . . a skein of geese passed silently over her shoulder, flying down the world into their secret night”). Is the riddling stranger who enters “her” house an avatar of her husband’s spirit passing from “reality”—or a harbinger of her own passing? Or both?
A virtually perfect short novel, shimmering with in-held meaning, menace, and—oddly—a kind of reassurance.