I have read 16 Delillo novels so far.
His literary cobbling definitely intrigues me. The sense of place, the weird characters saying off-the-wall things. The long, unnecessary, wandering, plotless sections of simply intriguing writing.
My ranking of Delillo so far:
4. The Angel Esmeralda
5. The Body Artist
6. White Noise
7. Mao II
8. The Names
9. Zero K
10. Point Omega
11. Great Jones Street
14. Falling Man
15. Ratner’s Star
16. The Silence
Most people could disagree and come up with their own rankings. I think the reader brings something to Delillo, interprets his aesthetic and appreciates his writing on different levels.
I’ll be tracking down and completing his final remaining works with trepidation and a touch of sadness. I will have to return to Ratner’s Star, having been disappointed. Then I will return to Underworld, having been enraptured. Is he a genius or a clever collagist?
My guess is he writes sentence by sentence, stringing together thoughts, characters, scenes. The themes bubble beneath the surface, but the subtle dance of his point is often elusive. You can always be assured that he will crisply construct elegant phrases, and incorporate many universal emotions and pointed comments related to the zeitgeist.
This book is only marginally about a rock group, a drug, a commune, writer’s complaints, and many other side topics. There is a near constant refrain of social commentary. Delillo’s books teach us a little bit more about being human, with all of our flaws, misconceptions, and compassion. Taken together, I think his body of work is more compelling than most other American authors, and comparable to Cormac McCarthy’s, or Steinbeck’s.
A true original, like Pynchon, who placed style and sentence precision above plot. Yet, I believe that most of his books fall just short of masterpieces due to their unfocused approach. Occasionally, whole sections fall flat to me, or certain books require an uneven amount of effort, with dense, impenetrable monologues abutting cinematic descriptions. This could be a failing in me as a reader, and proper appreciation of the hidden nuances may come with time.
This is as good a place as any to start with DeLillo. But I think Angel Esmeralda is the more perfect distillation of his powers.