"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review: Cosmopolis

Another read for my dissertation, picked because it's about cities and modernity. I got through this book in a couple of long days of reading, and it does have a way of sucking you in. The whole book (with a few exceptions) is set inside of a limo driving around NYC and, more specifically, inside the mind of Eric Packer, its bajillionaire passenger. This is not the nicest space to be in for 200 pages. Eric is, quite frankly, a strange guy, with very weird relationships to the people in his life who climb in and out of his limo. These include his wife, his body guards, his doctor, and his various assistants and employees. Actually there's no one likable or easy to relate to in this book. The fascination it holds is more the fascination of peering in at some weird subculture than the fascination of learning something about humanity or yourself (although maybe DeLillo would say that we can learn about humanity and ourselves from getting a glimpse of Eric's life).

The style of the book isn't very friendly either. The characters talk in some kind of strange mixture of philosophy professor and New York slang. Maybe that's how multi-billionaires in NYC actually talk, but for me it just felt like another thing distancing me from the characters, making them sound like the mouthpieces of DeLillo's abstract ideas about modern life.

What I found effective about this book was actually precisely what I'm complaining about - that it makes the city strange, as if by putting us inside this limo, DeLillo has plucked us from earth and put us in an alien spaceship so that we can see our lives from a totally new perspective. Eric does in some sense live above the world. However, his perspective doesn't offer much insight. Maybe the space ship is just too high up (excuse me while I beat this metaphor to death), so that the view becomes too simplified.

This was my first DeLillo novel, and I don't think I'll be reading any more of his writing. It was just too rarefied, too fascinated with messed-up people in a messed-up world, too stylistically stilted for me. But I'm glad I read it, as part of my goal to become better-versed in contemporary literature. Now if someone brings up DeLillo at a dinner party, I'll have something to say.

No comments:

Post a Comment