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Ostensibly, this is a story about grieving. Lauren is a body artist, meaning that she expresses her thoughts and feelings on stage through a variety of body appearances and positions. Her expressions reflect her extraordinary sensitivity to the world around her. When Lauren's husband, Rey, takes his life in suicide, what is left of their relationship, like her body work, assumes a visual expression in the form of a boy-man of indeterminate age, who lives in the past, present and future all at once. The image brings to her remnants of Rey, of herself, and of Laren-Rey (their relationship). Mere remnants remain because Rey is dead, and life's full richness with him is no longer possible. The boy-man is a tangible, seemingly real image, just as her body works are real to Lauren when she performs. This is not a ghost story. Rather, Lauren is grieving. Her grief takes this boy-man shape, helping Lauren to cope with Rey's death and her feelings about the suicide, about Rey, about their relationship, and about how she will express herself in her art. We all are haunted by those in our past, not by ghosts, but by our memories and remnants of our feelings. DeLillo's novel is an extension of these common feelings, as seen through the eyes of a most expressive protagonist. We all live simultaneously in the past (our memories, our character bases), the present, and the future (our hopes, fears, plans, dreams). All of this brews within us as we journey through our life's drama and trivia. Capturing such normal thought processes in such a creative way poetically blends the conscious and subconscious. The book is not just about grieving and being haunted by those we have loved, but about how we pass through, regard, and express our time alive.
A movie director commits suicide. His wife, a performance artist, copes with his loss by unconsciously generating an impaired housemate, whose awareness suggests he floats in time. Gradually, the wife merges with this figment, using it to force her way into a timeless consciousness, where she might float in and out of the past and still have the presence of her husband. Basically, "The Body Artist" tells the story of this woman, who becomes totally weird and reaches a state in which she thinks she can edge around death. Folks, it's fascinating! As always with a DeLillo book, there is superb writing and imagery that is both familiar and bleak. Here's a fragment that I liked: "She saw a twirling leaf just outside the window. It was a small amber leaf twirling in the air beneath a tree branch that extended over the roof. There was no sign of a larva web from which the leaf might be suspended, or a strand of some bird's nest-building material. Just the leaf in midair, turning."
I have never before written a review. I certainly do not think in terms of 5 stars--4 stars maybe. Yes but then, there is "The Body Artist." It is an exquisite book. It took me weeks to read it, underlining, commenting, saying "Oh" out loud. It is a meditation on Grief. On Time. On a State of Being that sends the reader into a writing frenzy and another universe. And Silence. A taste and sum of what is said: "Past, present and future are not amenities of language. Time unfolds into the seams of being. It passes through you, making and shaping." One could get lost there, but then, aren't we already?
I'm afraid to read another of Don DeLillo's books. Yet, to paraphrase: It is necessary because I need to do it. That is what makes it necessary.
A hauntingly beautiful novella that explores themes of time, language, grief and art. Delillo's prose dissolves into pure poetry; his sentences are lush and sublime. You should read this novel slowly to take it all in. These sentences deserve a slow reading in the same way a great red wine deserves to be consciously sipped instead of chugged.
Some people won't get it. This is literary fiction that explores deep themes and plays with language. Delillo makes you work a bit, and if that is not the fiction you enjoy, then do not read this book. But if you like literature-as-art, then by all means, delve into this little work of genius and raw subjectivity. You can read it in a couple of hours; preferably on a rainy autumn day, next to a fire place, drinking a glass of Merlot. :)