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The Body Artist: A Novel Kindle Edition

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Length: 128 pages
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Don DeLillo's reputation rests on a series of large-canvas novels, in which he's proven to be the foremost diagnostician of our national psyche. In The Body Artist, however, he sacrifices breadth for depth, narrowing his focus to a single life, a single death. The protagonist is Lauren Hartke, who we see sharing breakfast with her husband, Rey, in the opening pages. This 18-page sequence is a tour de force (albeit a less showy one than the author's initial salvo in Underworld)--an intricate, funny notation of Lauren's consciousness as she pours cereal, peers out the window, and makes idle chat. Rey, alas, will proceed directly from the breakfast table to the home of his former wife, where he'll unceremoniously blow his brains out.

What follows is one of the strangest ghost stories since The Turn of the Screw. And like James's tale, it seems to partake of at least seven kinds of ambiguity, leaving the reader to sort out its riddles. Returning to their summer rental after Rey's funeral, Lauren discovers a strange stowaway living in a spare room: an inarticulate young man, perhaps retarded, who may have been there for weeks. His very presence is hard for her to pin down: "There was something elusive in his aspect, moment to moment, a thinning of physical address." Yet soon this mysterious figure begins to speak in Rey's voice, and her own, playing back entire conversations from the days preceding the suicide. Has Lauren's husband been reincarnated? Or is the man simply an eavesdropping idiot savant, reproducing sentences he'd heard earlier from his concealment?

DeLillo refuses any definitive answer. Instead he lets Lauren steep in her grief and growing puzzlement, and speculates in his own voice about this apparent intersection of past and present, life and death. At times his rhetoric gets away from him, an odd thing for such a superbly controlled writer. "How could such a surplus of vulnerability find itself alone in the world?" he asks, sounding as though he's discussing a sick puppy. And Lauren's performances--for she is the body artist of the title--sound pretty awful, the kind of thing Artaud might have cooked up for an aerobics class. Still, when DeLillo reins in the abstractions and bears down, the results are heartbreaking:

Why shouldn't the death of a person you love bring you into lurid ruin? You don't know how to love the ones you love until they disappear abruptly. Then you understand how thinly distanced from their suffering, how sparing of self you often were, only rarely unguarded of heart, working your networks of give-and-take.
At this stage of his career, a thin book is an adventure for DeLillo. So is his willingness to risk sentimentality, to immerse us in personal rather than national traumas. For all its flaws, then, The Body Artist is a real, raw accomplishment, and a reminder that bigger, even for so capacious an imagination as DeLillo's, isn't always better. --James Marcus

From Publishers Weekly

After 11 novels, DeLillo (Underworld; White Noise) is an acknowledged American master, and a writer who rarely repeats his successes. This slim novella is puzzling, and may prove entirely mystifying to many readers; like all DeLillo's fiction, it offers a vision of contemporary life that expresses itself most clearly in how the story is told. Would you recognize what you had said weeks earlier, if it were the last thing, among other last things, you said to someone you loved and would never see again? That question, posed late in the narrative, helps explain the somewhat aimless and seemingly pointless opening scene, in which a couple gets up, has breakfast, and the man looks for his keys. Next we learn that heDfailed film director Rey Robles, 64Dis dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. SheDLauren, a "body artist"Dgoes on living alone in their house along a lonely coast, until she tracks a noise to an unused room on the third floor and to a tiny, misshapen man who repeats back conversations that she and Rey had weeks before. Is Mr. Tuttle, as Lauren calls him, real, possibly an inmate wandered off from a local institution? Or is he a figment of Lauren's grieving imagination? Is thisDas DeLillo playfully slips into Lauren's mind at one pointDthe first case of a human abducting an alien? One way of reading this story is as a novel told backwards, in a kind of time loop: DeLillo keeps hidden until his closing pages Lauren's role as a body artistDand with it, the novel's true narrative intent. DeLillo is always an offbeat and challenging novelist, and this little masterpiece of the storyteller's craft may not be everyone's masterpiece of the storytelling art. But like all DeLillo's strange and unforgettable works, this is one every reader will have to decide on individually. (Feb. 6)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 147 KB
  • Print Length: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (April 7, 2001)
  • Publication Date: April 7, 2001
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FBJGFE
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #547,954 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Don DeLillo is the author of fourteen novels, including Falling Man, Libra and White Noise, and three plays. He has won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Jerusalem Prize. In 2006, Underworld was named one of the three best novels of the last twenty-five years by The New York Times Book Review, and in 2000 it won the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for the most distinguished work of fiction of the past five years.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Body Artist is one of the strangest--and most seductive--books I've read in a long time, a "ghost story" with a character who is described as if he were real, and whom the main character believes to be real, and who may, in fact, be real--but who may also be a figment of imagination. Events which are described as real may be fantasies, and even the relationships the main character has or has had with people who seem to be real may, in fact, be colored by wishful thinking. Ultimately, even the linear progression of the narrative itself is called into question since, DeLillo tells us, "Past, present, and future are not amenities of language."

The story begins with the intimately described minutiae of breakfast, as a couple, married just a short time, gets ready for the day. We learn that it takes two cycles on the toaster to get the bread the right color, that the cup is his and the paper is hers, that a blue jay comes to the bird feeder, that she puts soya on her cereal and that it smells like feet. When Rey Robles, the husband, dies later that day (something we know from the beginning), the world of the wife, Lauren Hartke, changes from one of communication and an outward focus to a world of grief and an inward focus. When she discovers a stranger living on the third floor of her rented house, we aren't sure whether he is real or whether he materializes to show Lauren's unresolved feelings about her loss and the depth of her trauma. The stranger, dubbed Mr. Tuttle, is handicapped, unable to understand or communicate in language in any traditional way.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a not a dramatic book. This is a book that you read on a rainy afternoon in one sitting and bathe in the mood. The sentences are short at times, choppy and fragmented--a complaint made by the current "spot light reviewer". This is done for reason, for mood, and for effect. To some it may feel like a published experimental garbage-dump only gotten into print because of DeLillo's fantastic reputation. However, to read this book well you have to look at it as a whole.
The title, "The Body Artist", has as much bearing on this short work as the characters inside it. There is a backround of artistry, one of ambiguous interpretation not unlike those "new age" plays shown in the city. The book is light and dense at the same time; some of the sentences will strike you as odd and uneeded with no depth, while other scenes will captivate you with an overwhelming feeling of depression--hopefully lasting throughout the length of the novel. While I was reading, the book almost called for a scholarly analysis of theme and characterization: like I said, if read right the feeling of despair and eccentricity will seep into you. Read it with an artistic viewpoint and you'll be nicely rewarded.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By "50cent-haircut" on March 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
After his sprawling 'Underworld', DeLillo wrote this whimsy of a book. But don't be fooled by the slimness of this volume... the themes of love, loss and death are probed as thoroughly and poetically as only DeLillo knows how.
Lauren's observations in the beginning are masterfully written. Everyday events and ritualistic details are written with an elliptical, but precise grace. It's a deliberate slowing down of the cognitive process (of Lauren's, and in turn, ours) to plumb the mysteries of what we commonly take as given.
Rey's death resounds throughout the book, and the weird stranger/ghost that inhabits the house is one of the most haunting characters/ideas I've read in recent years. Lauren's sense of loss, and the physical craving to fill such loss, such sorrow are expertly drawn, with unflinching emotional honesty.
It's a refreshing surprise to find that one of the most maximalist, post-modern fictioneers we have in America is also one of the more intricate miniaturists. Very impressive.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
The Body Artist is one of the strangest--and most seductive--books I've read in a long time, a "ghost story" with a character who is described as if he were real, and whom the main character believes to be real, and who may, in fact, be real--but who may also be a figment of imagination. Events which are described as real may be fantasies, and even the relationships the main character has or has had with people who seem to be real may, in fact, be colored by wishful thinking. Ultimately, even the linear progression of the narrative itself is called into question since, DeLillo tells us, "Past, present, and future are not amenities of language."

The story begins with the intimately described minutiae of breakfast, as a couple, married just a short time, gets ready for the day. We learn that it takes two cycles on the toaster to get the bread the right color, that the cup is his and the paper is hers, that a blue jay comes to the bird feeder, that she puts soya on her cereal and that it smells like feet. When Rey Robles, the husband, dies later that day (something we know from the beginning), the world of the wife, Lauren Hartke, changes from one of communication and an outward focus to a world of grief and an inward focus. When she discovers a stranger living on the third floor of her rented house, we aren't sure whether he is real or whether he materializes to show Lauren's unresolved feelings about her loss and the depth of her trauma. The stranger, dubbed Mr. Tuttle, is handicapped, unable to understand or communicate in language in any traditional way.
Read more ›
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