DeLillo’s The Names

I finished Don DeLillo’s novel, The Names a few days ago. It was a bit of a miss for me. I enjoyed the language and also enjoyed a few of the themes he suggests here and there (those about language and media, especially). But I didn’t feel the whole thing really hung together thematically. The few commentators I’ve looked to like to make a big deal out of the novel’s meditations on language. Those are, in fact, quite interesting. But somehow it all feels like a failed effort: like an overly drawn out attempt to understand the essence of something without ever managing to do so.

I’ll probably turn it over in my head for a few more days and come up with some other connections that make more sense out of it. I almost feel like reading the damned book again, to figure out what I missed. But the opaque language of it would likely only lull me to sleep again. It’s probably best to let it go and move on. Maybe I’ll think on it some more and ‘get it.’ Or maybe there’s just very little to get.

This is a little sad for me, because I have a deep love for White Noise. But now DeLillo is 1 for 3 with me. Neither The Names nor his more recent The Body Artist spoke to me. Other of his novels have been recommended to me, and I’ll likely give them a shot. But I was sad that this one didn’t do it for me.

Interesting quote from DeLillo on the composition of The Names which lends a clue, I think, both to it’s strengths (i.e. sentence-by-sentence beauty of the language) and its weaknesses (i.e. slow forward movement, free-form structure):

When I was working on The Names I devised a new method–new to me, anyway. When I finished a paragraph, even a three-line paragraph, I automatically went to a fresh page to start the new paragraph. No crowded pages. This enabled me to see a given set of sentences more clearly. It made rewriting easier and more effective. The white space on the page helped me concentrate more deeply on what I’d written. [1]