Like many of Mr. DeLillo's earlier books, Omega is preoccupied with death and dread and paranoia, and like many of those books, it has an ingenious architecture that gains resonance in retrospect.
The New York Times
Life assassinates art in the latest literary missive from DeLillo (White Noise). Precocious filmmaker Jim Finley visits Richard Elster, a scholar and government consultant, to pitch an idea for a documentary about Elster. What begins as a project spiel, however, gradually becomes a series of intellectual exchanges that only intensify when Elster's daughter arrives for a visit. The three settle into a comfortable routine, only to be catapulted out of it by a completely unexpected plot twist that will leave even careful readers scratching their heads. DeLillo's prose is simultaneously spare and lyrical, creating a minimalist dreamworld that will please readers attuned to language and sound. Structural purists, meanwhile, will appreciate the novel's film-related framing device, which wraps around the main action like a blanket and unifies the whole with a painful, poignant grace. VERDICT Though it be but brief, DeLillo's latest offering is fierce. An excellent nugget of thought-provoking fiction that pits life against art and emotion against intellect. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/09.]—Leigh Anne Vrabel, Carnegie Lib. of Pittsburgh
Moving a step beyond the disturbing symbolism of Falling Man (2007, etc.), DeLillo ruminates teasingly on a tendency toward obliteration perhaps locked into the DNA of all living things. His crisp, precisely understated, hauntingly elliptical narrative frames a haltingly revealed story of moral compromise between two viewings of a piece of conceptual art, fashioned from the classic Hitchcock film Psycho, displayed at a small museum in the southwestern United States. The man who watches it, enthralled, is documentary filmmaker Jim Finley, who has traveled west to interview his potential film subject: former academic Richard Elster, now retired from his employment as an advisor during the Iraq War, living in a half-finished house in the California desert. The bulk of this very short book, which in some ways resembles Albert Camus' scorching novella The Fall, describes Finley's stay with the taciturn Elster, who is only too aware he was exploited to give credence to questionable military strategic decisions. Painstakingly elicited responses to Finley's earnest questions eventually disclose Elster's conviction that, deny it as we may, humankind compulsively bends toward "the omega point" at which life declines to continue existing and embraces the comfort of nonbeing: "We want to be stones in a field." This affirmation of entropy assumes agonizing human form when Elster's frail, detached and distracted adult daughter Jessie arrives for a visit that cannot and does not resolve any of her own "failures" and disappointments. The sparse narrative climaxes with yet another retreat from engagement with reality and concludes with Elster, once again a watcher rather than a doer, transformed in amanner that crystallizes DeLillo's brilliant deployments of two series of images: those in the Hitchcock film, and the borrowed motif of stairs climbed and descended at one's peril. An icy, disturbing and masterfully composed study of guilt, loss and regret-quite possibly the author's finest yet.
From the Publisher
“A splendid, fierce novel by a deep practitioner of the form…. Enlivening, challenging, harrowing and beautiful.”—Matthew Sharpe, Los Angeles Times
"If Underworld was DeLillo’s extravagant funeral for the twentieth century, Point Omega is the farewell party for the last decade.... DeLillo has …. written the first important novel of the year."Michael Miller, New York Observer
“A novel of ideas — about how language, film and art alter what we think of as reality. It's for readers ready to slow down and savor the words. It's for those who would watch not just Psycho, but ponder the meanings of ‘24 Hour Psycho’.”—Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today
“DeLillo is, without any doubt or qualification, one of the most influential, brilliant, gifted and insightful of American novelists. There are sentences in this book that are breathtaking.”—Geoff Pevere, Toronto Star
“Haunting… DeLillo slows down the whole culture, all of our repertoire of artifacts, words, and gestures.”—Greil Marcus
“DeLillo has achieved a precision and economy of language here that any writer would envy.”—David Ignatius, Washington Post Book World
Read an Excerpt
The true life is not reducible to words spoken or written, not by anyone, ever. The true life takes place when we're alone, thinking, feeling, lost in memory, dreamingly selfaware, the submicroscopic moments. He said this more than once, Elster did, in more than one way. His life happened, he said, when he sat staring at a blank wall, thinking about dinner.
An eight-hundred-page biography is nothing more than dead conjecture, he said.
I almost believed him when he said such things. He said we do this all the time, all of us, we become ourselves beneath the running thoughts and dim images, wondering idly when we'll die. This is how we live and think whether we know it or not. These are the unsorted thoughts we have looking out the train window, small dull smears of meditative panic.
The sun was burning down. This is what he wanted, to feel the deep heat beating into his body, feel the body itself, reclaim the body from what he called the nausea of News and Traffic.
This was desert, out beyond cities and scattered towns. He was here to eat, sleep and sweat, here to do nothing, sit and think. There was the house and then nothing but distances, not vistas or sweeping sightlines but only distances. He was here, he said, to stop talking. There was no one to talk to but me. He did this sparingly at first and never at sunset. These were not glorious retirement sunsets of stocks and bonds. To Elster sunset was human invention, our perceptual arrangement of light and space into elements of wonder. We looked and wondered. There was a trembling in the air as the unnamed colors and landforms took on definition, a clarity of outline and extent. Maybe it was the age difference between us that made me think he felt something else at last light, a persistent disquiet, uninvented. This would explain the silence.
The house was a sad hybrid. There was a corrugated metal roof above a clapboard exterior with an unfinished stonework path out front and a tacked-on deck jutting from one side. This is where we sat through his hushed hour, a torchlit sky, the closeness of hills barely visible at high white noon.
News and Traffic. Sports and Weather. These were his acid terms for the life he'd left behind, more than two years of living with the tight minds that made the war. It was all background noise, he said, waving a hand. He liked to wave a hand in dismissal. There were the risk assessments and policy papers, the interagency working groups. He was the outsider, a scholar with an approval rating but no experience in government. He sat at a table in a secure conference room with the strategic planners and military analysts. He was there to conceptualize, his word, in quotes, to apply overarching ideas and principles to such matters as troop deployment and counterinsurgency. He was cleared to read classified cables and restricted transcripts, he said, and he listened to the chatter of the resident experts, the metaphysicians in the intelligence agencies, the fantasists in the Pentagon.
The third floor of the E ring at the Pentagon. Bulk and swagger, he said.
He'd exchanged all that for space and time. These were things he seemed to absorb through his pores. There were the distances that enfolded every feature of the landscape and there was the force of geologic time, out there somewhere, the string grids of excavators searching for weathered bone.
I keep seeing the words. Heat, space, stillness, distance. They've become visual states of mind. I'm not sure what that means. I keep seeing figures in isolation, I see past physical dimension into the feelings that these words engender, feelings that deepen over time. That's the other word, time.
I drove and looked. He stayed at the house, sitting on the creaky deck in a band of shade, reading. I hiked into palm washes and up unmarked trails, always water, carrying water everywhere, always a hat, wearing a broadbrimmed hat and a neckerchief, and I stood on promontories in punishing sun, stood and looked. The desert was outside my range, it was an alien being, it was science fiction, both saturating and remote, and I had to force myself to believe I was here.
He knew where he was, in his chair, alive to the protoworld, I thought, the seas and reefs of ten million years ago. He closed his eyes, silently divining the nature of later extinctions, grassy plains in picture books for children, a region swarming with happy camels and giant zebras, mastodons, sabertooth tigers.
Extinction was a current theme of his. The landscape inspired themes. Spaciousness and claustrophobia. This would become a theme.
Copyright © 2010 by Don DeLillo