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Americana (Contemporary American fiction) Paperback – July 6, 1989
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From Publishers Weekly
In search of his roots, a successful but unhappy TV executive takes off for the heartland of America. "This first novel is peopled with characters alienated not only from one another, but from themselves. It has the smell of staleness and despair. It is also, with its deadly accurate observations, its veracious dialogue, and its consistency of view, brilliantly written," maintained PW.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"Nearly every sentence of Americana rings true, an insistence upon the authenticity behind the stereotypes....DeLillo is a man of frightening perception." --Joyce Carol Oates, The Detroit Sunday News
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A discourse on alienation and emotional apathy with DeLillo's sense of humor and existential dread. This or End Zone are a good place to start reading DeLillo. His outlook on humanity isn't always cheerful but does show depth of thought. His prose is hypnotic yet (for DeLillo) deceptively simple and eminently readable.
He forwarned, Americana is seemingly intense to some readers although I find it one of DeLillo's easiest reads. It has a certain intensity that some folks I've encountered find difficult or not uplifting. Perhaps this is accurate for some but reading is an experiential enterprise.
This novel left me thinking of its thematic issues well after finishing its text. It is influential without being didactic or hysterically over wrought as many authors first novel can be. It is skillfully written and beautifully descriptive in its narrative.
Americana is a fine first novel. You can see in it the brilliances that will become White Noise and Underworld with time and refinement. Paul Auster dedicated his book Leviathan to Don Delillo and depicts a man rumored to be pattererned after him. But take it from me, there are no cross-over insights to be found. They key to digging beneath the layer of Americana is not held within Leviathan. The key to Americana is simply to heed David Bell's own warning, and try to read past the smoke to get to the fire it's hiding.
It's a sneaky novel, sneaky in that writing about the American experience, trying to make some sense of whether it is more a dream of innocence or a nightmare of technological power which has waged 20th century wars across the planet. It ends by deciding "the literature I had been confronting these past days [were] archetypes of the dismal mystery" The novel ends in "silence and darkness", David leaving arguably a low point in American history and culture, the place where JFK was assassinated in Dallas, and returning to where he began, New York, a "falling man" [interestingly, the title of his later post 9-11 novel} involved in advertising, the world in which "words and meaning were at odds".
Advertising, it is stated, moves the viewer from the "first to the third person", suggesting that American's relentless material success has removed authenticity from the experience of the individual and diminished his existence by making him into a consumer, a person who fulfills himself only by viewing images and trying to emulate them. A camera shot is described of a group of ladies with shopping bags, "a fabulous salute to the forgetfulness of being. What better proof that they have been alive?" America, then, is a land of infinitely multiple and created images. To consume these images is to forget that you are a human being, that you are alive. Purposefully, most of this novel uses the third person; "David Bell" cannot continually exist as an "I" - he has been corrupted by America.
There are a number of fleeting references to James Joyce whose "young artist" could only escape the moral and artistic death of a corrupt Ireland by going into exile. It is no accident that early in AMERICANA, David Bell does use the first person, "I" and mentions that he too is in exile, "It's time to run the film again. . . not much to do on this island." The act of trying to solve the mystery of America, its contradictions and paradoxes, finally is overwhelming, and all one can do is to cinematically (the art form most developed in America) run the film again, take one more look at the images, and then . . . the rest is up to the reader.