The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories by Don DeLillo (Scribner)
There is a huge gap in my reading history, and it is filled with unopened copies of every book written by Don DeLillo. That’s a lie, I read Libra. There was a time when I seemed to be convinced that Oswald couldn’t possibly have done that shooting job on his own. I read the first fifty pages of Underworld (that’s me lying again), which was great. Have I tried to make it work between myself and Don? Of course. Which is why I’m softly digging these stories, as it might be the best way to approach a literary giant, quietly.
Reading “Creation”, the first story in this collection, while flying on a plane over the east coast, isn’t what I’d call smart. I managed to read it three times (chipping parts of it off right now as I write this), and tried to find a way out. Like the characters stuck in a paradise with only a one horse airport to grant them release from said paradise, I felt like I was trapped right alongside them. DeLillo does something with language, both parts sparing and spare. He emotes on the level of Michael Corelone. In his defense, rarely has anyone gotten anything done by acting otherwise. The women in this story are intellectuals bored by their surroundings, and DeLillo makes them suffer the trials of the everyman. You get up early to wait in line to see if you might be on the confirmation list so you can maybe get a seat on a plane that will crash? Great. I should say, it might crash. So now we have a couple who is tied to a vacation that they badly want out of, and DeLillo won’t let them leave.
In the second story, “The Sightings”, we immediately know the characters are full of shit. Brimming, stewing, the scent is palpable. The shit talker in question is named, Blacker. I’m not kidding. He is a UFO expert and has such a grasp on the lingo, a way with the vernacular, that he has an almost politician-like smoothness. He believes. Our narrator seems skeptical of Blacker, and when the car they are driving stops to pick up Janie, a hitchhiker, who all too conveniently is also a UFO expert, my bullshit detector went off. But then, oh God, then the story goes sideways, and I really started to fall hard for these people. I love Janie’s wide-eyed optimism, which is tempered by Blacker’s vivid imagination, so eloquently she he speaks on the subject of light, dark, and the things that travel down from space. Blacker’s worst fears are confirmed by Janie. Then I was made a believer by what happens next.
The fear and anger that wafts off these two stories is barnyard thick. I like/love the economy DeLillo uses with his dialogue, and at some points everything becomes static, sometimes fluent, other times, not so much. I’m carrying around this book like a Bible, or a prayer book, flipping it open to read certain parts of these two stories over and over. Maybe I’m past my fear of Don DeLillo? Just because everyone says you should read DeLillo, doesn’t mean you should, but in this case, I strongly suggest it.