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The Names Paperback – July 17, 1989
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"Brilliant...a powerful, haunting book." --The New York Times Book Review
"DeLillo's most accomplished novel." --Time
"Compelling...strange and wonderful and frightening." --The New Yorker
"Exotic, atmospheric, curiously suspenseful, full of characters at once unusual and fully realized...an extraordinarily original and enveloping piece of work." --Los Angeles Times Book Review
From the Inside Flap
the backdrop of a lush and exotic Greece, The Names is considered the book which began to drive "sharply upward the size of his readership" (Los Angeles Times Book Review). Among the cast of DeLillo's bizarre yet fully realized characters in The Names are Kathryn, the narrator's estranged wife; their son, the six-year-old novelist; Owen, the scientist; and the neurotic narrator obsessed with his own neuroses. A thriller, a mystery, and still a moving examination of family, loss, and the amorphous and magical potential of language itself, The Names stands with any of DeLillo's more recent and highly acclaimed works.
"The Names not only accurately reflects a portion of our contemporary world but, more importantly, creates an original world of its own."--Chicago Sun-Times
"DeLillo sifts experience through simultaneous grids of science and poetry, analysis and clear sight, to m
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I mention cults because they are at the very center of THE NAMES. In this intriguing but fraught novel, you will find cultish behavior by American businesspeople that live overseas. You will find anti-American political operatives, whose obsessiveness and secretiveness border on the cultish. And you will find one true cult, the marginal and murderous Ta Onὀmata, which means THE NAMES in Greek. Cults... this is a book about cults and their hold on certain imaginations.
I'd say DeLillo explores this cultish theme primarily through three characters. The first is James Axton, who narrates most of the book. "Something in our method finds a home in your unconscious mind," explains Andahl, a renegade member of Ta Onὀmata, to James. "A recognition. This curious recognition is not subject to conscious scrutiny. Our program evokes something that you seem to understand and find familiar...We are working at a pre-verbal level."
The second character offering perspective on cults is Frank Volterra, a film maker who thinks Ta Onὀmata would provide a riveting subject for a film. Frank, in disputation with James, says Ta Onὀmata is different from the Manson family, who murdered only to murder. "Totally different. Different in every respect. These people are monks, they're secular monks. They want to vault into eternity."
Finally, DeLillo creates Owen Brademas, a brilliant talker and archeologist. Initially, his take on the cult is: "They are engaged in a painstaking denial. We can see them as people intent on ritualizing a denial of our elemental nature.... We know we will die." But ultimately, this intellectual approach makes way for the reach and power of a boyhood memory, when he witnessed family members undergo the ecstatic religious experience of "talking in tongues."
I suppose the issue posed by each of these characters is: How far will James, Frank, and Owen allow the release of cult-induced ecstasy to take them? To the level of, say, aggressive seduction? Or perhaps to the level of creepy vicarious witness? Or maybe to the level of complicity and the self-destruction of long held-values?
Anyway, DeLillo takes you on a very disturbing exploration in THE NAMES, where his characters cope (or not) with the pull of ecstasy and their individual needs for immersion in life.
Rounded up to five-stars and recommended.
"If I were a writer, how I would enjoy being told the novel is dead. How liberating, to work in the margins, outside a central perception. You are the ghoul of literature. Lovely."
Indeed, it is very lovely - if you are a lover of poetry and are fascinated with words and language. If, on the other hand, you're in this for some plot of overtly historical significance, please don't bother yourself with the book. Choose one of DeLillo's more acclaimed, lesser achievements.
There are so many striking passages in the book that one scarcely knows where to start. But, its being necessary to give the prospective reader a taste of the "voluptuously stark" - as one reviewer dubs it - prose, mostly centred in the Greek isles, here is a foretaste:
"I went out to the terrace. It was one of those sandblasted days. The city was achromatic, very dense and still. A woman came out of a building and walked slowly down the street. She was the only person in sight, the only thing moving. In the emptiness and glare there was a mystery about her. Tall, a dark dress, a shoulder bag. Locusts droning. The brightness, the slow afternoon. I stood watching. She stepped off the curbstone without looking back this way. No cars, no sound of cars. Was it the empty street that made her such an erotic figure, the heat and time of day? She drew things toward her. Her shadow gave a depth to things. She was walking in the street and even this was powerful and alluring, an act that had erotic force...That nothing else moved into view, that she walked with a lazy sway, that her dress was the kind of fabric that clings, that her buttocks were hard and tight, that the moment of her passage in the sun went by so slowly, all these things made sexual drama. They weighed on me. They put me in a near trance of longing. That's what she was, hypnotic, walking down the middle of the street. Long slow empty quiet Sundays."
If you're not given to such mesmerising trances of longing, such quiet, lonely moments like this one, when time seems suspended and an erotic or numinous halo seems to surround the person or object that swims into your purview, then, with many reviewers here, you will dismiss the passage and the book as "pretentious" simply because you are unfamiliar with this type of occurrence in your life. But for those of us whose lives are filled with such events, the book is infinitely coruscating and infinitely re-readable.
And yes, there is a plot, of sorts, all to do with the power of words, and the murder of several people based on their names corresponding with the particular place in which they are murdered. The book's overarching theme seems to be the verbal vs. the preverbal: That there are events, times and places in our lives so sacred that words lack the power, in any language, to describe or name, in whatever language, that experience, so that words and names can come to be seen as a profanation, a sullying, a delimiting of the power of the experience.
Enough. If you've bothered to read this far you'll fall in love with the book as I did. So, one last concluding quote:
"We said goodbye at the corner, taking each other's hands in the way people do who want to press gladness into the flesh at the end of an uncertain time. Then I crossed the street and headed west. Silent. The rotor wash. The rippling trees. Dust spinning around them. Their hair and clothes blowing. The frenzy."