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Customer Review

on July 22, 2001
First, let me ask you...how many languages do you speak? That question will take on a whole new meaning once you've read this book. The story (and there *is* one) centers around a group of American and British expatriates living and working in Greece (where DeLillo lived for a while before writing this novel). It was the last of his early novels...meaning the next one was WHITE NOISE, at which point DeLillo started to become famous. Yet, THE NAMES still remains one of my favorites. Yes, it was followed by three truly *excellent* novels (WHITE NOISE, LIBRA, and MAO II), and (after several years) by an undisputedly GREAT novel (UNDERWORLD). But, here we have DeLillo still paying his dues...and paying them remarkably well, too. In this one, he finally brought together the various disparate themes of his earlier works, and he solidified his "outsider in society" motif. It was the first of DeLillo's novels I read, and it made me an instant devotee.
So...how many languages do you speak? These expatriates I mentioned come in contact with a bizarre language cult which is responsible for a series of ritual murders in the area. Our "hero" is James Axton, a "risk analyst" who isn't exactly sure himself just who he's working for (i.e., business insurance...or CIA?). In fact, he's pretty much detached from most things in his life...his ex-marriage, his friends, Greece itself, the cult (when he finally meets them)...you name it. The Outsider. Wishing he could be part of something...never able to get past the *analysis* of risk. His inaction leads to serious consequences.
As always, DeLillo's intense use of language ultimately leads to something nonverbal. It's interesting to me that he seems to have most successfully achieved this in THE NAMES, which so persistently circles around issues related to language. DeLillo has said that he writes his works one sentence at a time, paying as much attention to the nonverbal elements as to the verbal. He hears the rhythm of the words, the prosody of sound, and he studies the shapes of the words on the page. If something's not right, he says, he'll change a word...even if it means changing the meaning of the sentence. Thus, language becomes the driving force of the story. Thus, DeLillo says, writing becomes a religious experience. If you don't know what he means by this, maybe THE NAMES will give you a clue. It's contemporary American writing at its best!
And, by the way...how many languages do you speak? And where are you from? Are they killing Americans there?
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