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