The Barnes & Noble Review
Don DeLillo's brilliant novels explore the intricacies, conflicts, and contradictions of American culture. His thirteenth is another inspired, cerebral, sometimes surreal narrative, this time skewering 1990s economic exuberance as it tracks the downfall of a 28-year-old Wall Street billionaire over the course of a day-long crosstown limousine trip in traffic-clogged Manhattan. Grand, incisive, cheerfully satirical, and filled with penetrating descriptions that bring to life a high-energy urban existence ruled by Wall Street, Cosmopolis is an incredibly compact and taut story that provides rich commentary on the vacuous nature of New York high finance and the current state of world affairs. Tom Piccirilli
this may be the sexiest book of the year.Time
It's not that the novel, which is set in New York City in April 2000, declines to depict our post 9/11 world. It's that its portrait of a millennial Manhattan is hopelessly clichéd, quite devoid of the satiric black humor that made White Noise so potent and unnerving, and just as devoid of the electric detail and dead-on dialogue that have been the hallmarks of so much of Mr. DeLillo's earlier work. The novel's depiction of a master-of-the-universe type — a fabulously wealthy asset manager named Eric, who at 28 is a monster of arrogance, vulgarity and contempt — is thoroughly predictable. Its central theme, that chaos and asymmetry will trump the search for order and patterns, is a familiar one, delineated with considerably more ardor and persuasiveness by this author in previous books. — Michiko Kakutani
After the dense layering of novels like Libra and Underworld, which was nominated for a 1997 National Book Award, DeLillo has chosen an almost cartoonish pop-up narrative for his latest novel, which takes place over the course of a day.
The story concerns a billionaire New York asset manager named Eric Packer who initiates a self-destructive spiral for reasons the book never makes clear. On an April morning in 2000, Packer leaves his forty-eight-room apartment on the East Side of Manhattan, decides he wants a haircut and orders his cork-lined and everything-equipped limousine to take him across town to his childhood barber in Hell's Kitchen. Because of traffic snarls, an anti-globalization riot near Times Square, a funeral procession for a rap star and Packer's departures from the limo to eat meals, talk with his wife, visit a bookstore, watch a rave and have sex with two other women, the trip extends into the early morning hours.
Packer spends much of his day escaping the insulation of his wealth and attempting to enjoy common pleasures outside the limo. But he also intentionally loses money in reckless speculation, engages in a gratuitous act of violence, bursts out of the barber's chair with only half a haircut and places himself in mortal danger. DeLillo offers little about Packer's background, so psychology can't help explain character as it does in traditional realism. Packer's motives are paradoxical, possibly pathological, by turns self-asserting and self-abasing.
Emboldened by his financial success, Packer envisions a future when a human being can become immortal by being encoded "in a chip, on a disk, as data." He appears to havefallen victim to a pernicious belief that cybernetic systems could banish enigma from existence, and once he begins to doubt the transcendental power of data, Packer desires an Icarus-like crash and burn.
Into the third-person narrative of Packer's progress, DeLillo inserts pages of the first-person "confessions" of one Benno Levin, a disgruntled former employee of Packer who threatens his one-time boss and confronts him at the novel's end. Although Levin plans to write thousands of pages explaining why he wants to destroy Packer, the motives Levin does manage to articulate are murky. DeLillo composes Levin's confessions in a chaotic or "misshapen" style—words full or mysteriously empty of meaning, sentences that jump from subject to subject, ideas that repeat. In Mao II, DeLillo's 1991 novel about the diminished power of the writer in contemporary culture, a novelist puts his life on the line trying to rescue a hostage in Lebanon. In Cosmopolis, the writer Levin plots to take a life, saying that he wants "to rise up from the words on the page and do something, hurt someone."
In telling Packer and Levin's story, DeLillo sacrifices the realism and emotional engagement of a novel like Underworld or even The Body Artist. Ever artful in his sentences and arrangements, he doesn't devolve to populist sentiment or propaganda but may engage in wishful thinking when he has his financial pharaoh engineer his own downfall. Cosmopolis is not one of DeLillo's best novels, but it is one of his best intentioned and should be widely read, probably twice or more by those who enjoy contemplating life's enigmas.
For a book about a 28-year-old new-economy billionaire with a "frozen heart," Patton adopts a distant, machine-like narrative tone that has all the warmth of the computer HAL in Stanley Kubrick's 2001. It's a fitting approach, as the asset manager at the novel's center, Eric Packer, is hardly an avaricious tycoon, but rather an insular and literate egotist who seems more given to detached, philosophical reveries on everyday trivialities than to serious business analysis. That, too, fits, as this novel from DeLillo (Underworld; White Noise) takes place entirely in one day as Packer's life unravels while he's driven across Manhattan to get a haircut. He remains aloof both to listeners and to those around him, and Patton's understated reading imbues the proceedings with the subtle edginess of a mild drug. That's not to say that things are completely monotone, though; Patton also deftly portrays characters ranging from Packer's gruff, paranoid head of security to his aging Italian barber, one of the few characters who seem truly human. But the book is really an extended meditation, and while Patton's pitch may be perfect, the recording isn't for everyone. Simultaneous release with the Scribner hardcover (Forecasts, Dec. 9, 2002). (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Financier Eric Packer is having a bad day. As he is being driven around Manhattan in his stretch limo, traffic is clogged by a presidential visit and by the funeral of a rap star. Then anticapitalists stage a lengthy and violent demonstration. While all this is going on, Eric's new marriage crumbles, his empire collapses, and at least one assassin lurks. DeLillo is a great novelist, but he seems to be treading water in Cosmopolis, having offered his analysis of American society's excesses more entertainingly and with more depth in such works as White Noise, Libra, and Underground. Eric and his problems are never very interesting, and DeLillo's treatment of them seems repetitive, often boring. Will Patton reads in an insinuating whisper that perfectly captures both Eric's aimlessness and the sinister activities surrounding him. Recommended only for those collections where anything by DeLillo is considered essential.-Michael Adams, CUNY Graduate Ctr. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
High finance, terrorism and paranoia, and various new technologies, all are targets in DeLillo’s darkly satirical latest: a bleakly funny footnote to such earlier anatomies of contemporary malaise as The Names (1982), White Noise (1985), and Mao II (1991). The story surveys a single April day in the year 2000 as experienced by 28-year-old billionaire financier Eric Packer, a risk-taking epicurean who might be the considerably more jaded elder brother of William Gaddis’s eponymous preadolescent corporate mogul "J.R." We first encounter Eric in his customized stretch limousine, where he "visits" with such functionaries as his sullen Czech security chief Torval, young-geek technical consultant Michael Chin, chief of finance Jane Melman, and sonorous "chief of theory" (actually an abstracted efficiency expert) Vija Kinski, among others. We learn that he’s playing a dangerous investment game, "betting" on fluctuations in the value of the yen; that sexual encounters with his middle-aged mistress and Amazonian personal trainer don’t ease a seemingly un-consummateable fixation on his wife, poet and heiress Elise Shifrin; and, in interpolated chapters, that a stalker plans to assassinate him. Meanwhile, the limo’s progress is slowed by a presidential motorcade, violent protest demonstrations, a rap star’s funeral procession, and a film crew at work in the streets. DeLillo assembles these quirky particulars expertlyand he still writes better sentences than any other contemporary author. The tale is ingenious and amusing, and there’s a chilling logic to its eloquent climax, in which Eric encounters his would-be killer and learns why he has apparently been "engineering . . . [his] owndownfall." Unfortunately, though, Cosmopolis is laden with abrupt, arbitrarily off-putting gnomic utterances (e.g., after Elise orders a restaurant salad, "She dug right in, treating it as food and not some extrusion of matter that science could not explain"). The crystalline metaphysician-ironist is only sporadically present in this distorted, frustratingly opaque world.
"Cosmopolis is a concise Ulysses for the new century."The San Diego Union-Tribune