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The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories Hardcover – November 15, 2011

3.7 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2011: Don DeLillo, a master of using exactly as many words as he needs to paint the sharpest possible picture, has published his first story collection. Written between 1979 and 2011, the nine short pieces in The Angel Esmeralda sketch a handful of moments--the arc of a circumstantial affair, the explosion of a friendship between two teenagers--with the author’s trademark economy. DeLillo knows his context and characters so well, a sliver of them is enough to engage us completely. As one man puts it, floating through space in the collection opener, “The emptier the land, the more luminous and precise the names for its features.” DeLillo’s short fiction is a series of pointillist landscapes; entire worlds spring from the section of the canvas he chooses to frame for us. Lean in and pay attention--every glimpse counts. --Mia Lipman



Amazon Exclusive: Sam Lipsyte Reviews The Angel Esmeralda

Sam Lipsyte is the author of Venus Drive and The Ask.

A note about The Angel Esmeralda: this collection of stories by America's best living novelist is not only an immense joy to read, but it grants one a chance to reflect on something often underappreciated: Don DeLillo's versatility. If you count yourself a DeLillo fan, then you are already intimate with the power, scope and heady, subterranean humor of novels like Underworld, Players, Libra, and White Noise, (well, really, any of his novels apply). You are probably also quite familiar with his wonderfully inventive plays. You've also read his short stories as they appeared infrequently over the years, been dazzled by their surfaces and depths, but maybe overlooked DeLillo's real achievement in the form. I admit I was dazzled, and that I partook in some egregious overlooking, but reading this collection confirms DeLillo as one of our very best short story writers. It's scary.

All of these pieces possess the same cunning, grace and laser-guided prose of his novels, and touch on the great DeLillo themes. "Human Moments in World War III" depicts some pilots in a futuristic fighter during an age when "the banning of nuclear weapons has made the earth safe for war." As the ship describes its orbit the narrator describes his frightful observations about the world, while clinging to "homey emotions" summoned by the voices of old radio shows and a shipment of brightly packaged broccoli. Meanwhile he practices his firing protocol for the devastation to come.

Other more recent fictions include "Baader-Meinhof," a brilliant meditation on terrorism, or our perceptions of it, as well "Midnight in Dostoevsky," which captures the sensitivity and intensity of young philosophy students at a remote college: "At the gym I did my dumb struts on the elliptical and lapsed into spells of lost thought. Idaho, I thought. Idaho, the word, so voweled and obscure. Wasn't where we were, right here, obscure enough for her?" The startling "Hammer and Sickle," about a cellblock of white-collar convicts, and "The Starveling," a heart breaker about obsessed, lonely moviegoers, round out this stunning book.

There is no ignoring the collections subtitle, "Nine Stories," with its nod (and wry challenge) to J.D. Salinger's classic. It's strange to put DeLillo and Salinger in the same sentence. They are so vastly different, except they both, in their respective eras, hugely shaped the sound and direction of American literature. I've read Don DeLillo over and over for more than half my life (it's always more than half, DeLillo might point out, for he has one of the finest ears for the patterns of American speech). The richness of his work, the pleasures on offer--intellectual, visceral, poetic, comic–-are unrivaled. The connections he makes from the data of our lives, and the way he renders these connections into sly, steely, grieving song, remain incomparable. Which is just to say that, in the parlance of this e-commerce context, customers who like writing that stretches and reinvigorates their consciousness, that delivers them bravely to places of fresh feeling and leads them thrillingly through the mysteries and moods of contemporary existence might also enjoy The Angel Esmeralda. --Sam Lipsyte


Review

"I was dazzled...Reading this collection confirms DeLillo as one of our very best short story writers...The richness of his work, the pleasures on offer--intellectual, visceral, poetic, comic--are unrivalled."--Sam Lipsyte, author of "The Ask"
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (November 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451655843
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451655841
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #702,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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