Monday, 22 February 2021

Zero K - Don DeLillo (2016)


Rating: Sublime

Having read Mao II (1991) recently I knew I needed some more DeLillo in my life, my favourite author. Zero K has been in my possession for quite a while and it was worth the wait. By the end of the novel I came to the conclusion that it is among his greatest, a late period DeLillo classic. The first section, entitled - In the Time of Chelyabinsk, is one of DeLillo’s finest moments, in which protagonist Jeffrey Lockhart meets his billionaire father at a secret and remote high-tech labyrinthine compound. Within the underground compound Jeffrey is confronted by a programme that aims to preserve human bodies until a time in which medical science can begin life anew. Here death can be induced purposely and this process is presented as a highly desirable endgame, as evidenced by the symbolic and ritualistic positioning of preserved human ‘heralds’, leading the way for others who may falter in their commitment to joining the modern day underworld. DeLillo's usual pared back, yet poised prose, is a perfect medium in which to explore the profound existential themes at play. The compound reveals its secrets in a manner which only highlights its mysteries. It’s brilliantly done, even by DeLillo's high standards.

As Zero K progressed it had the usual effect on my everyday perceptions. DeLillo, once again, made me view the world differently. How many authors have that power? Not that many. DeLillo's usual obsessions are featured throughout the novel, the profound contrasted by the banal, the swarming homeless, the lost contrasted with the purposeful; the power of art, particularly visual art, and the use of observational narrative that takes in the world around the characters, as if their external world is thinking for them. The major theme that emerges, to my mind in any case, is the question of whether human life is worthy of potential quasi-immortality, followed by the notion that bowing to the inevitability of death gives life, (Jeffrey’s OCD effected and aimless life in particular), meaning. The fact that Jeffrey’s life is the polar opposite of his overachieving father’s life presents the reader with this concept to absorb and ponder in their own way. DeLillo no longer plays with post-modern themes, at the end of his life he is rightly exploring the very meaning of what it is to exist and for this I'm grateful. I’m the first to acknowledge that DeLillo's work is not for everyone. People reading Zero K, or any of his novels, may come away confused and perhaps underwhelmed, however ultimately I have to enthusiastically concur with those who regard DeLillo as America’s greatest living novelist.

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