Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Body Artist - Don DeLillo

Rey Robles, an unsuccessful film director, dies in his first wife's apartment one morning. He and his current ( third) wife, Lauren HArtke, are living in an isolated house near the coast, away from the New York City. Their day began as routinely as always, with them having the breakfast, he stirring his coffee and the newspaper, she opening and closing cabinets opening and closing taps.

"I want to say something, but what".. he said, "About the house. This is what it is, ..something I meant to tell you".. but she wasn't listening.

That was the last morning of them together. Same morning he committed suicide, in the Manhattan apartment of his first wife, shooting himself.
Alone, in a large house, whose tenure is another couple of months far, Lauren returns back to her life of uncertainties. A celebrated body artist, who defies the limits of the physical body elevate herself to a performance level, Lauren now has to find her way all by herself. Often loosing herself in her thoughts and through the question of her own existence. She consciously isolate herself from the rest of the world and her only interaction with the external world is during her routine shopping trip for essentials.

It does not remain so for long, when she realises a there are noise and footsteps on the top floor. She finds an unusual looking young man, short and skinny, retarded, possibly living there since they have moved in. He seldom speaks and the only sound escape his mouth is those once spoken by Ray himself. Now her existence has a definition, through this unknown creature living with her, often missing and reappearing. Lauren now, re-live her live with Ray, through the recorded conversations on the tape and those spoken by her unknown companion apart from the birds which perks on her window.

Is he real ? Is he a ghost (of Ray , refusing to leave her) ? Is he a creation of Lauren's troubled mind ? There is no definite answer. Was he there long enough hiding from the couple and listening to their conversations , which he now repeats ? Or is he an alien trapped in her house? DeLillo does not give any definite answer, but play the scenes through her mind. Neither does the writer gives us any indications of their life together and the circumstances of their marriage, the only references of her life is through the 2 random notes, one by her friend and an obituary.

A short novella by the master novelist, his first in the new millennium, is surrealistic and tricky. The metaphoric use of birds and the possible symbolism using nature ( the trees, leaves , see along with birds) and covers up for the lack of depth in the story. The narration develops itself, with some tactical use of style and language.

Its a strange and cunning novel, very seductive and moving. This might not represent the best of Don DeLillo, but an interesting work of fiction, nonetheless.

The Body Artist ( 2001 )

Don DeLillo

Scribner Paperback
126 Pages


1 comment:

Robert Stone said...

"The man alongside studies the fingernails of his right hand…In time he begins making the sound either or both of them make when troubled by anxiety, critical choices, nameless dread…It's a prolonged hum, the speech sound m."