Written by Don DeLillo
Original Language: English
In whatever form Don DeLillo chooses to write, there is simply no other American author who has so consistently pushed the boundaries of fiction in his effort to capture the zeitgeist. In The Body Artist, DeLillo tells the hallucinatory tale of performance artist Lauren Hartke in the days following the suicide of her husband, filmmaker Rey Robles. Finishing out their lease of a rented house on the coast, living in a self-imposed exile, Lauren discovers a mysterious man in the bedroom upstairs who is able to repeat -- verbatim -- entire conversations she had with her husband before his death but does not seem to know his own name or where he happens to come from. DeLillo's emphasis on behavior and the inadequacies of language in The Body Artist will remind readers more of his plays (Valparaiso, The Day Room) than of his novels, and yet, in just a few pages -- 128, as compared to the sweeping, masterful Underworld's 800-plus -- DeLillo still manages to draw a rich portrait of contemporary American life in all its quotidian glory. Describing Lauren in the kitchen on the morning her husband will commit suicide, he writes, "She took the kettle back to the stove because this is how you live a life even if you don't know it." In this opening scene, Lauren and Rey silently struggle to assign meaning and relevance to an ordinary moment. They have a routine; they know what comes next. But they can't say what it is. They seem cut off from their own actions. How do you articulate the emotion that accompanies eating breakfast with your spouse? As Rey puts it, "I want to say something but what." When they finish eating, Rey drives to his ex-wife's apartment in Manhattan to kill himself. The question remains open as to whether or not the strange man (whom Lauren affectionately names Mr. Tuttle, after an English teacher of hers, when she finds him upstairs) exists at all, or if he is merely a figment of her imagination. But Mr. Tuttle's origins are entirely beside the point. He has no origins. He defies description. He is neither old nor young. "Maybe this man experiences another kind of reality where he is here and there, before and after." And leave it to DeLillo to connect this enigma to the Internet. There is a live, 24-hour web site Lauren enjoys viewing: It shows an empty road in Kotka, Finland. Occasionally a car drives by or a person crosses the screen, but generally nothing happens. Lauren is fascinated by the notion that across the globe, at this very moment, this is happening, an episode "real enough to withstand the circumstance of nothing going on." This may also be the best way to describe The Body Artist, a book in which "it all happens around the word seem." In DeLillo's unique brand of lucid, albeit elliptical, prose, The Body Artist addresses the very questions Gauguin inscribed on his famous painting: Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going? Lauren Hartke answers these questions by transforming the absurdities of her daily life -- that hours can seem long or short and still be hours; how a thing can look like something other than itself -- into a beautiful, suggestive live performance. Through her art, Lauren transcends the limits of language and body, approaching an understanding of her husband's death and more clearly discerning her own original nature. And in a brilliant act of spiritual ventriloquism, DeLillo, "the poet of lonely places," dresses himself up in this character, placing us in the extreme situation of her search for an experience of meaning she can call living.
Read from 2008-06-27 to 2008-07-10
Read in English