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Great Jones Street (Contemporary American Fiction) Paperback – January 1, 1994
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"Brilliant...deeply shocking...looks at rock music, nihilism and urban decay." --Diane Johnson, The New York Review of Books
"Luminous...finally, a novel that understands rock and roll!" --Jon Pareles, The Village Voice Literary Supplement
About the Author
Don DeLillo published his first short story when he was twenty-three years old. He has since written twelve novels, including White Noise (1985) which won the National Book Award. It was followed by Libra (1988), his novel about the assassination of President Kennedy, and by Mao II, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
In 1997, he published the bestselling Underworld, and in 1999 he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, given to a writer whose work expresses the theme of the freedom of the individual in society; he was the first American author to receive it. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
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Until he walks out on all of it to live like a vagrant in a run down apartment in New York City.
See, Bucky is bored. Of the music. The noise. The fame. Of himself. He knows neither who he really is, or even why he is that person.
Take a slow, rambling and often surreal ride through the eyes of Bucky Wunderlick. Bored rock star. Philosopher. Accidental cartel middleman.
Along the way, you'll discover that fame can come at a cost, that even the famous can experience existential crises and maybe even learn a thing or two about your own existence.
Told from the first person perspective and in a rambling, near stream of consciousness manner reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy, Great Jones Street is as much a philosophical conversation with a novel protagonist as it is a novel.
As a musician, Bucky finally decides he "needed a route back". But will his route back resemble that of his band mate Azarian, who evolves and affirms his own musicality in soul music? Or will Bucky's route back follow the vision of Globke, his agent, who has brilliant ideas about promoting Bucky's celebrity and is indifferent to his music. Or will Bucky follow the path of the musician Watney, who realized his own mediocrity and evolved through business? Or, will Bucky find a musical equivalent of Fenig, his upstairs neighbor, who is a writer seeking success through the exploitation of market niches?
In offering these alternatives to Bucky, DeLillo also begins in a very dark space. In particular, all these options for Bucky's personal evolution are opposed by the sinister Happy Valley Farm Commune. This sees Bucky's musical withdrawal as a principled stand for independence and privacy. Happy Valley, by the way, apparently has two factions, one of them nihilistic and violent as it enforces its beliefs.
As Bucky is exposed to these musical possibilities, he also becomes a passive participant in a dangerous drug deal. In this case, Opel, Azarian, and Watney each seek to acquire a "package" that Bucky keeps in his living room and that contains the ultimate recreational drug. The drug, which is the property of the Happy Valley Farm Commune, is also a matter of interest to the drug legend Dr. Pepper, who makes several wildly entertaining appearances in GJS. My favorite occurs in Chapter 18, where Dr. Pepper explains that he wants the package since he, like everyone else in GREAT JONES STREET, is trying to evolve. In this case, Dr. Pepper wants to make the package his platform for a final creative and professional breakthrough.
GJS is my eleventh DeLillo novel. IMO, GJS is a superb effort that showcases the great Don's glittering and terse prose, hilarious and insightful associations, and his unmistakable and inimitable voice. But unlike many of DeLillo's later novels, GJS has a protagonist who, while on the fringe, has not fully dropped out. This is quite different from Falling Man: A Novel,Point Omega: A Novel, and The Body Artist: A Novel, where much of the tension exists in a protagonist's familiar marginality and creepy normalcy. Don, BTW, solves the issue of the ultimately eloquent Bucky's marginality in a surprising and perfect last chapter.
This is an excellent and highly entertaining novel and is highly recommended.
Unfortunately for contemporary readers, that Cobain imagery is likely to stick with you throughout this 1973 novel and become a distraction. Bucky Wunderlick, DeLillo's rock idol, is neither as tortured or talented as Cobain. As other critics have noted, his lyrics are awful. DeLillo doesn't have an ear for rock lyrics (or at least didn't in the early 70s.)
Like Running Dog, Great Jones Street is a great premise and an awkward delivery. DeLillo had yet to develop his signature style of putting subtext before story. He also hadn't developed his micro-detail style of painting an environment, which he used to such brilliant effect in describing the supermarket in "White Noise" and the Bronx of his youth in "Underworld." What we're left with is conventional dialogue-and-plot story telling -- which is what DeLillo has always done worst.
If you've read the masterworks of the DeLillo canon -- Ratner's Star, The Names, White Noise, Libra, Mao II and Underworld -- Great Jones Street is a worthwhile diversion. If you haven't read DeLillo's best, come back when you're done.