44 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2011
There is something fascinating and frightening about the way that Don DeLillo sees the world. It's not that he sees it differently than you or I, he sees it more clearly, he makes connections most of us don't dream of. For this reason he has been called "weirdly prophetic" about the millennial decades. For example, the World Trade Center Towers featured prominently as the site for terrorists attacks in more than one novel. How did he know that they would be a target almost 30 years prior to the events of 9/11? He looked at those Towers and saw something so monumental that they would have to come down, one way or another.
These stories span almost over 30 years of time, and DeLillo's writing has under gone many evolutions since then. I've read every single one of his books and many of these stories fit well into the spaces between novels.
I prefer not to summarize plots in my reviews, simply because I go into book and stories completely blind and discover it. I would hate to rob anyone of anything. So, I will say that one of the things I've always loved about DeLillo is the way he takes everyday events and infuses them with a sense of dread. We all get flat tires, or miss flights, or call a wrong number - but in the DeLillo world these things are signs of something much larger at work, even if it's never revealed the fear is felt.
DeLillo recently wrote a short story that was published in the New Yorker called "Midnight In Dostoyevsky," in which two young men follow a man in a strange coat. The act itself is fairly innocent, but the way Delillo writes it makes you wonder if the two boys are going to rob or murder the man in the coat.
The sentences are astonishing, as well as the words he uses, which aren't necessarily big and unpronounceable, but uncannily perfect for whatever he is describing.
My only complaints are I wish this book would have collected more of his stories and "The Angel Esmerelda" will be recognized by those of you who have read "Underworld," although it is a bit different, it still felt familiar. This is excellent reading for anyone who appreciates intelligent fiction, but in the end it just makes me want to go back and read his novels.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2011
This is Delillo's first collection of short stories. Underworld was a great book, a big book with big themes and long storylines. This brings him back to scale -- stories that allow him to focus on small, well-contained themes that you can take in and toss around in your mind without a lot of strain.
There are numerous themes in these stories, but the one that grabbed me most was a recurring one-sided way in which characters in the stories bridge the gulf between their own inner lives and those of other people, where they have only the external marks as evidence -- the way they walk, the expressions on their faces, the clothes they wear.
Delillo's characters often encounter each other through this kind of opaque externality, never directly interacting in conversation but constructing whole narratives of familiarity from the barest hints and great leaps of surmise. Leo Zhelezniak in The Starveling, follows, even stalks, a woman who seems to share his own alienated lifestyle, spending their days going from theatre to theatre in New York, watching movies in sequences coordinated with travel times and subway routes. He comes to "know" so much about her without ever talking to her, that he can cross the gulf between them on this bridge he's built entirely on his own, as if the familiarity and shared experience of life he has constructed is really there.
It's something we all do, just not so starkly as Zhelezniak, or the characters in Midnight in Dostoevsky who construct the life of "the man in the hooded coat". We have our daily encounters with one another, and we build our understandings of each other on what, in the full scope of our lives, are really only glimpses. But it is how we understand each other.
It's all a fragility that miraculously holds together, like the highway traffic Jerold Bradway watches in Hammer and Sickle. "Why don't they crash all the time?" he asks, watching cars speeding by under the separate control of distracted drivers, with little actual communication or coordination between them. Like Zhelezniak and other characters in these stories, Bradway looks at the drivers, wondering who they are and where they are going. And at the same time he thinks at least some of them are looking at him, wondering the same things.
When I read White Noise a long time ago, I thought it was one of the best novels I'd ever read. Since then I've made a point of reading everything I could get my hands on by Don Delillo. This is very different, but one of his best, I think.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The Angel Esmeralda is a book I would recommend to readers unfamiliar with Don DeLillo's work because the stories were written over a 33 year period, the earliest,"Creation," from 1979 to the most recent, "The Starveling," (2011). The best of them, "Human Moments in World War III," "Hammer and Sickle," and "The Starveling," show us how DeLillo's work nearly always captures something about American life many of us miss. "Human Moments," for example juxtaposes the perspective of two astronauts orbiting the earth with the wars occurring all over the planet. In this quasi-sci-fi tale, nuclear war has been banned so that humanity can better fight conventional wars without destroying itself altogether. It's the astronauts' job to monitor these wars from above so that the belligerent activity doesn't get out of hand. Although published in 1979, the piece seems a parable about how we have become accustomed to a planetary landscape of continuing and continual wars. Ironically, the view of the entire planet, made possible by space travel, has not brought us together, but has given us the tools to observe how screwed up we are as a species. "Hammer and Sickle" takes us inside a prison "camp" for financial criminals, giving us a unique perspective on the current world economic meltdown. As always, DeLillo's style is dense and not for everyone, but you enjoy exercising your neurons and synapses, this is a must read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2012
I like to say that I enjoy literary fiction, but in reality, I enjoy "popular literary fiction," -- well-written, with perhaps a bit of social commentary thrown in, but nothing too deep or esoteric. The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories by Don DeLillo, winner of the PEN/Faulkner prize and the National Book Award, is truly real literary fiction. So much so, that as I was reading the stories (listening to them actually), I wish that it was under the context of one of my college English classes. If your book club is more high-brow than mass-market, you might enjoy discussing these stories at one of your meetings.
I enjoyed the writing in each one of these stories, and even the brain-hurting part of dissecting some of them, but sometimes I just wanted a plot! Some of them delved into character and prose at the expense of plot.
The stories are not at all connected, but do have some similarities: a few, including the title story, are set in New York, and as with any good story set in New York, the city becomes part of the story. "The Starveling" was one of my favorite stories, though it was light on plot, in which a man spends his day seeing movie after movie -- taking to the streets of New York and using the subway maps to navigate from one showtime to the next.
"Hammer and Sickle" and "Midnight in Dostoevsky" each deal with institutions of a sort -- prison and a college campus. They also both nod to Russia, and were also stories that I enjoyed, because the characters completely came to life. What's more "Midnight in Dostoevsky" was especially effective in the audio version that I listened to, because of the plotline involving peppy TV hosts that the narrator really brought to life.
AUDIOBOOK NOTES: The 9 stories have 5 narrators: some male, some feamale; some reading only one story, and others appearing a second time. Each story is read wonderfully, and I think that listening to them as opposed to reading them made it more enjoyable. Because they are short stories (though some are fairly long "short" stories), I was able to keep the discs in my car and listen to one over a period of time without having to invest hours and hours on one novel, if that makes sense.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
DeLillo has divided the nine stories in this terrific collection into three units. These are:
o Part One: DeLillo examines odd couples in travel. In CREATION (1979), the couple is a predatory man with a feel for travel clichés and a woman that he befriends/exploits on an island in the Caribbean. There is sex but no intimacy as they helplessly await a connecting flight. In contrast, the couple in HUMAN MOMENTS IN WORLD WAR III (1983) is two astronauts in orbit around the earth, monitoring and enabling a three-week long war. Here, the young astronaut Vollman shows faint poetic inclinations but ordinary abilities and awareness. Meanwhile, the narrator is intensely and expressively original and seeks to suppress the nature of his job through mission discipline and jargon. The highlight of Part One: The spirited but methodical priming of a deadly laser.
o Part Two: In this unit, DeLillo examines three instances of hysteria. In THE RUNNER (1988), the hysteria arises from a bystander at a kidnapping, who imposes a false narrative on what she has witnessed. In THE IVORY ACROBAT (1988), hysteria haunts a woman who experiences two earthquakes. An ivory acrobat, referencing a time before the quakes, takes her outside her hysterical terror. Finally, THE ANGEL ESMERALDA (1994) shows the elderly Sister Edgar, a cold-war nun discombobulated by the ravages of drugs and poverty in the Bronx. Her hysteria takes the forms of germ phobia, obsessive and infinite regressive reasoning, and witness to a miracle of transcendence. The Highlights: Kyle experiences the terror of an earthquake; and Sister Gracie, chasing Esmeralda in an abandoned lot, is distracted by bats swirling from a crater filled with medical waste.
o Part Three: Here, DeLillo presents four stories about isolation. In BAADER-MEINHOFF (2002) he explores the creepy interaction between a live-alone woman who seems to seek helplessness and an aggressive man who is emotionally obtuse. In MIDNIGHT IN DOSTOYEVSKY (2009), a college student compulsively refines speculative narratives about strangers--"It would be my life's work. I would spend my life in a thought bubble, purifying the link."--while avoiding ordinary relationships. Meanwhile, HAMMER AND SICKLE (2010) examines a father in a minimum security prison who watches his daughters--ten and twelve years old--present the financial news in a parody TV program. Their content is an intense telegraphic concatenation of clichés, not information. Finally, THE STARVELING (2011) shows an isolated man trapped by routine and his obsession with movies. Highlights: EVERYTHING.
The final observation goes to the great Don, who is describing both the broadcast voice of Flory, a radio traffic reporter, and his own amazing and unmistakable literary style. "She spoke fantastically fast, words and key phrases expertly compressed into coded format..."
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
How would you fill in the blanks in these sentences?
** "...Leo, who'd feel an erection beginning to ___ beneath the sheets" (p. 188).
** "The place smelled of seat cushions, the ___ of warm bodies" (p. 206).
Now that I have your attention, let that percolate on the back burner of your mind while we talk about this collection of stories.
Fiction anthologies afford the reader the opportunity easily to compare and contrast stories that were originally published separately. I find this aspect of anthologies particularly compelling if, as in this case, the works are drawn from the corpus of a single author. "The Angel Esmeralda - Nine Stories" by Don DeLillo brings together examples of his work spanning the years 1979 to 2011. Admittedly, I'm not that familiar with DeLillo's impressive and award-winning oeuvre of stories, novels and plays, so I don't know if these stories are representative of the whole, or were selected for this volume because they share certain strong elements. However that may be, the similarities in these stories call attention to themselves by being grouped in this intriguing, if ultimately unsatisfying anthology.
Almost all of these stories share the Seinfeldian quality of being about nothing. That is to say, nothing really happens. Or again, the characters do things, but none of which amounts to anything. The one partial exception is the story named in the title of the collection. Like the other stories, "The Angel Esmeralda" revolves around characters that do things, sacred and profane, but nothing changes in any way; it's the human condition laid bare. Unlike the other stories, though, a tragic event near the end of the main story line of "The Angel Esmeralda" gives rise to a coda that takes the reader in a different, if ultimately equally futile direction. It's hope dashed.
In each of these stories, the characters are emotionally if not psychically detached from one another. This isn't something the reader simply picks up on. DeLillo himself draws attention to this feeling of isolation in the words of a character in "Midnight in Dostoevsky": "I felt completely detached" (p. 145). The reader wants to respond, "And how is that different from any other time in your life?" The father watching his daughters on a children's television program in "Hammer and Sickle" and the astronauts on the space station in "Human Moments in World War III" are physically as well as emotionally distant. Television sets and portholes don't serve to connect, as one might expect: they serve to heighten the isolation. What's more, the married couple that part in "Creation" are as emotionally distant from each other as the divorced couple that lives together in "The Starveling": how could you tell the difference in nature between the two couples?
DeLillo makes the drawing of fictional characters another shared feature. In each of these stories (some to a greater extent than others) the characters create fictions about some other character that's attracted their attention. They don't really seek to learn the "real" background of these people--in the one case where a character tries to find out he's blocked and beat upon by his fellow fiction-concocting friend ("Midnight in Dostoevsky")--but rather are satisfied with the backstory they've developed. It's as if reality can be explained to their satisfaction by inventing "truth." Perhaps this reflects the whole creative process of writing: our mythmaking helps us explain things and cope.
The shared qualities described above don't do much to ensnare the heart. Reading these stories is a head exercise. "The only laws that matter are laws of thought," Professor Ilgauskas announces in "Midnight in Dostoevsky," "The rest is devil worship..." (p. 139). It's as if DeLillo's fiction is in synch with that overstated logic. The tragic circumstances of "The Angel Esmeralda" is the only story to come close to warming these cold and sterile fictions. That doesn't sound like much fun, does it.
But to leave it at that would be to sell these stories short. Because in creating interesting stories about virtually nothing, DeLillo does so using fresh language and occasionally laugh-out-loud scenes. He manages to avoid in every case shopworn descriptions of everyday things, for example, in telling of "the gassy moan of a city bus" (p. 92), which when you think of it, is a wonderfully apt expression. Whatever you came up with for the blanks in the two sentences at the start of this review, I'm quite certain "hum" and "dust" weren't among your ideas. (Indeed, I'm a bit baffled by the humming erection.) Students defending themselves against germs from the professor's sneezes ricocheting off of the seminar table and a main character's observation about a girl's desiring to move from Minnesota to Idaho ("Wasn't where we were, right here, obscure enough for her?" p. 134) manage to be both funny and illustrative of the apparent point: that we're like blind but also ignorant people bundled in the cold, groping in the dark, afraid of the messiness of the world and so taking comfort in our fictions.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2012
The nine stories in "The Angel Esmeralda" span the years 1979 to 2011 in DeLillo's creative output as a short storywriter. Each of the stories holds private or public terror, overtly or hidden. For example, in "Baader-Meinhof," the historical terrorists Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof are depicted as corpses in paintings by Gerhard Richter, who is never mentioned in the story. Dead terrorists may fascinate the two characters in the story, but the terror here shifts from the historical to the personal--the threat of sexual assault. The implicit terror of nothingness of natural disaster or of the unknown puts the characters in these stories on edge. The master story in the collection is the title story, beautifully and movingly told. Here the grotesque, the sense of wonder, and the fear of violence as well as nothingness or side by side right in one of our city's neighborhoods. I highly recommend this collection to readers knowledgeable about DeLillo's work and to those who would like to be introduced to his narratives.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2012
Reading DeLillo in short story form is a thrill and a comfort. As usual he thrills us with his imagination and language, but there is also a comfort in being released from the intensity of one of these stories to muse on it and to contemplate it's many facets. Then, with a deep breath, to begin again in an entirely new world with the next story. The title story is extraordinary, the best I have ever read. I will never forget it.
on July 19, 2014
Delillo is more well-known for longer works of fiction. His novels are concerned with American life, like “White Noise” and “Falling Man” which addressed the paranoia of modern living as we know it, with its excesses in consumerism and social/political instability, and the threat of terrorism. It culminated in his magnum opus, “Underworld”, which I unfortunately did not finish – it was just too massive and complex a work, though that does not detract from his genius. In between, he has also published shorter works like “Cosmopolis” and “The Body Artist”, which had a more personal feel about them because he cast his lens on a smaller sphere, which had varying results. In his prolific body of work, Delillo maintains his signature taut and terse writing style, which gives an air of emotional detachment, which is yet surprisingly incisive. One would think that the short story form would serve Delillo well, so it is surprising that Delillo does not write more short stories. This is his only collection to date, and it brings together nine pieces published between 1979 to 2011, and yet the span of time between the stories does not give this collection a patchy feel.
That said, the stories are varied in content and concerns. The first one, “Creation” finds a couple trapped at the end of their holiday on an island in the West Indies, and the building tension is set against the calm and peaceful environs of the hotel they keep going back to when yet another flight is cancelled. The turn in the story with the entry of a third character is remarkably insidious and shocking. And yet the reader is correspondingly lulled and then alarmed, which increases the sense of unease. This is especially effective in “Baader-Meinhof”, where a woman finds herself inexplicably thrown into an acquaintance with a fellow visitor at an art gallery, and the new friendship soon spirals out of control.
The characters in these stories are also varied and checkered. But whether they are travellers, university students, nuns or even astronauts, Delillo zeroes in on their disparate personalities in a succinct and illuminating way. In all these stories, people try to connect, whether it is Sister Edgar who tries to reach out to the illusive street urchin Esmeralda in the titular story, or the man who fills his days at the cinemas across town watching movie after movie in “The Starveling”, or the two college friends who imagine a backstory about a hooded stranger they see in the university town in “Midnight in Doestovksy”, and hold on to it with a tenacity that overrides the truth. These characters may fail in their attempts to connect, and the motivations behind their actions less than logical or benevolent, but in each, Delillo writes with such empathy and clarity, that the reader is not only convinced, but spellbound.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The Angel Esmeralda is the first collection of all of Don DeLillo's short stories. They span a time period of 32 years, from 1979 to 2011. I have to admit that I was not very impressed with this collection. It contains nine stories, each very different. Of the nine stories, I loved one, liked a couple and the others just didn't speak to me.
The Angel Esmeralda was my favorite story in the collection. It takes place in the South Bronx, one of the worst areas of New York City, similar to a war zone. Sisters Gracie and Edgar work to help the poor. They have heard of sightings of a twelve year old girl who runs around in a vacant lot filled with rabid dogs, bats, and used syringes. The girl is murdered and her image appears on an orange juice billboard every time train lights go by and hit it. Thousands of people gather to view this miracle. Suddenly, however, the billboard goes blank.
In Creation, a couple is stranded on a tropical island due to the ineptitude of an airline company. In The Ivory Acrobat, serious earthquakes in Greece cause a woman to question her sense of being and life itself. Baader-Meinhof (the terrorist group in Germany) is about a woman who goes to an exhibit of the Baader-Meinhof group in a museum day after day. She meets a man there who she befriends and he ends up being very frightening. Hammer and Sickle is about men in a minimum security prison, sentenced mostly for financial and blue collar crimes. They regularly watch a children's reality show about international investment. The two girls who report on the show are the daughters of one of the inmates. In The Starveling, a couple who is divorced continue to live together. She is an unemployed actor and he spends his days making the rounds of New York City movie theaters.
I was really looking forward to this book. I am a lover of short stories and have to admit that I am not familiar with DeLillo's other works though my husband is a real fan of his. Overall, I was disappointed by the thematic content of the stories. They seemed trivial and, in many cases, went nowhere.