A cryogenic facility beyond the edges of civilization provokes a series of meditations on death and life.
“The thinness of contemporary life,” DeLillo writes in his 16th novel. “I can poke my finger through it.” This sentiment reverberates throughout this elusive book. Set in part at a facility in the trackless steppes of a former Soviet republic, it tells the story of a Manhattanite named Jeffrey, his financier father, and his stepmother, Artis, who has traveled thousands of miles to be cryogenically preserved. Artis is dying, but then, DeLillo makes clear, so are all of us, every day, our lives a series of choices, less drama than determination as we move through a world we cannot control. And yet, here at the end of life, there seems a promise: that we can take charge of our destinies once and for all. “Terror and war, everywhere now,” DeLillo suggests, “sweeping the surface of our planet….And what does it all amount to? A grotesque kind of nostalgia.” In removing ourselves from everything, then, even the inevitability of death, we achieve a kind of purity. This, of course, is classic DeLillo, the tension between body and mind. How do we live the more we distance ourselves from our common physicality, the more we lose ourselves in circuits, video clips? From Great Jones Street (1973) to Running Dog (1978) to Underworld (1997), DeLillo has long traced the power of the image both to illuminate and to insulate. In this new novel, however, such tropes lack a certain urgency. Partly, it’s the static nature of the narrative; this is a book, after all, about waiting to die. But even more, it’s that these concepts no longer seem so revelatory in a world as overmediated as ours. No, in such a culture, it is not death that moves us so much as the question of how to live. Or, as DeLillo puts it: “Ordinary moments make the life. This is what she knew to be trustworthy and this is what I learned, eventually, from those years we spent together. No leaps or falls. I inhale the little drizzly details of the past and know who I am.”
DeLillo's latest novel asks compelling questions, but its answers are a bit shopworn.