The Body Artist
by Don DeLillo
The Body Artist
A review by Adrienne Miller
GIST: The new novella by the preeminent writer of American fiction. Any book by DeLillo, our great prophetic seer, is an event, and this, as such, is an occasion to cheer. Smaller (insofar as a human life may be called "small") in scope than the half-century-defining Underworld, The Body Artist deals largely with time – our conception of it, how we organize it, and how it fashions us into what we are.
UPSHOT: The book opens with a scene – claustrophobic, blanched, spare – of a husband (Rey) and a wife (Lauren) going through their morning ritual in the kitchen of their beach house. We then learn, in the form of a newspaper obituary, that Rey, an experimental filmmaker, has committed suicide. Shot himself, and in his first wife's apartment. Lauren was his third wife, and the "body artist" in question – her art is to erase any sign of corporeality, any trace of body decay. Left alone in their bleak, remote rental, Lauren discovers a mysterious man-child savant living in a guest room. Is he a ghost? Is he a figment of her imagination? "A man who remembers the future," he can inexplicably mimic Rey's vanished voice. He, like Lauren, possesses such a shadowy conception of self that there doesn't seem to be any "self" present at all.
Story line, as it might now seem clear, is hardly the point in a DeLillo novel. The Body Artist trades in familiar DeLillo themes – the things that keep us apart, the ways in which contemporary consumer culture makes it very difficult to be human, lost people, lost time. He writes: "in sleep he was no more unknowable than anyone else. Look. The shrouded body feebly beating. This is what you feel, looking at the hushed and vulnerable body...." And this is why we read DeLillo. No one else sees as deeply, or as clearly.
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