Three unusual people--"defense intellectual" Richard Elster, who was involved in the management of the country's war machine; young documentary filmmaker Jim Finley, who is intent on documenting Elster's experience; and Elster's daughter Jessica, who behaves like an "otherworldly" woman from New York--train their binoculars on the desert landscape of California and build an odd, tender intimacy, something like a family. Then a devastating event throws everything into question.
Sounds insufferable, doesn't it? I cringed my way through the first thirty pages or so, worried that DeLillo was unaware of how ridiculous these characters sometimes sound. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that they were meant to sound out of touch, for reasons that have to do with the plot, and one particular even serving to shake these characters into an awareness of the world that they've lost touch with in favor of all this insular language. Incidentally, if you're reading this review as a part of a survey of reviews to figure out what the consensus is, and whether it might be worth dropping money on this book...stop reading reviews. Some of them carelessly spoil a plot point that you'd probably rather not know about (the review below is guilty of this). The consensus is basically that the book's pretty good, particularly if you like DeLillo.
So even though I sort of came to peace with the inanity of some of what goes through these characters' heads, I was still a little bit annoyed. The book was coming off too much like a summary of some stuff that Don DeLillo has been thinking about recently, sort of like some of the books Markson's been publishing in the last few years. However...the last section manages to tie the "Anonymity" sections in the MoMA that bookend the novel to the main narrative that takes place in the California desert in a really interesting, subtle way. And that's ultimately what won me over. Not immediately, though. I actually didn't see the link that the last section establishes until a couple hours after I finished the book, at which point I was at a Super Bowl party, and had a hard time explaining why I was suddenly staring at the floor, shaking my head and smiling. The great part about what DeLillo pulls off in that last section is that he doesn't just link the narratives--by extension he creates pretty interesting links among those interesting bits I was mentioning earlier. This is all pretty vague, I know, but this is one of a few literary books that I think really benefits from the element of surprise. So, in a somewhat ironic way, it's the plot that ended up redeeming all the concepts in this DeLillo novel. I came awfully close to not liking it, though, so I encourage anybody who reads Point Omega (and if you think you might want to...why not? It'll take you, what? Three, four hours?) to spend some time thinking about the thing as a whole when you finish.
This book is about times--personal time, film time, desert time, subliminal time, geologic time. It also forces on the reader a time dictated by the novel. Point Omega is exceedingly short, and the plot fairly shallow. The whole of the story could have been a vignette from Underworld: a film-maker would like to actualize his latest vision by filming non-stop the unscripted rambling of an ex-military intelligence man who purposefully lives completely isolated from the world he used to know, way out in the desert. The film-maker, the man and his daughter interact and some things happen. That’s it. But the plot isn’t what makes this book fantastic. DeLillo opens in a room with a silent projection of the film Psycho playing at a speed which stretches the duration of the film to 24 hours--film time slowed way down. The viewer must engage with the film, and the reader with the narrator, at this altered speed. The speed of the big city, or your school or family life gets coopted by the multiple times of this novel--times much slower than most things. And then it’s over, quickly, because this magnificent novel is only 117 pages long.
It was with considerable anticipation then that I read “Point Omega.” Unfortunately, it was not a wholly satisfying experience. The main story—and one has to use that term loosely in this case—involves an aging intellectual who has retreated to the California desert after his involvement in helping to plot the Iraq invasion and an unsuccessful filmmaker who has come to try to convince him to appear in a documentary about his association with the Pentagon. As their time together in the desert drags on, the film project is forgotten with the arrival of the intellectual’s daughter. The mystery of her subsequent disappearance provides the novella with the aspects of a thriller. This plotline is framed in the opening and closing chapters with the New York screening of “24 Hour Psycho,” an art installation in which Hitchcock’s classic movie is slowed down to last for a full day. The disjointed images on the screen and elongated sense of time become a metaphor for the entire book.
I found all of this to be both contrived and more than a little implausible. There is very little in the way of character development through the story and so it really becomes nothing more than a vehicle for making the point that, as a nation, we appear to reaching the end of our time (i.e., the “omega point” of the title). What redeemed the reading for me, however, was the fact that DeLillo is just so good with some of his depictions—particularly in the desert scenes—that it is easy to be carried along for the duration of this brief work. I cannot imagine that “Point Omega” will be considered among the author’s best writing, but it is still well worth the small effort it requires to digest its ideas and images.
* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *
- In the opening chapter, we meet Dennis, who is obsessively watching 24-Hour Psycho. He sees Jim and Elster, briefly.
- In the closing chapter (the next day) he meets Jessica and gets her phone number.
- Sometime after that chapter ends, Dennis starts calling Jessica. It's not clear what happens in those calls, or whether they meet again.
- Then the middle chapter begins. While its events are taking place, Jessica's mother (who sometimes picks up the phone and hears no answer), decides something isn't right, and sends Jessica to her father's place in the desert.
- In the middle of the second chapter, Jessica arrives at the house. Dennis eventually comes after her, they leave the house together, and (presumably) Dennis kills her, as Norman Bates kills Janet Leigh. The knife is found by the police, but not a body. Jim & Elster leave the desert.
* * * * * END SPOILERS * * * * *
I don't know what I think of this novella, but it wasn't boring, and the last chapter was a little bit of a twist.
Please, stop publishing the cobbled-together writer's workshop pieces from authors with famous names. Sentence structure is insufficient to compell one to the end of a novel (which, Point Omega happens not to be). Guys like DeLillo have little to say anymore.
Also, I respectfully submit that the appeal of neurotic, white, males in America, along with their attendant anxiety is worn and faded. Maybe, if there was some kind of limited digital release to AARP members? There must be an app for that.
The rest of the reading public.
A ne'r do well film maker journeys to the isolated desert house of a former US government official. He hopes to make a bare bones interview documentary a la Errol Morris' "Fog of War". The official seems to become unhinged and a visit from his daughter tightens the strings of tension.
Emblematic with the narrative are his visits to "24 Hours Psycho" - a slow motion exhibit of the Hitchcock film.
Jim Finley is a young film maker with one avaunt garde movie to his credit about Jerry Lewis, “a man on a mission from God.” Now he wants to make a literal “talking head” movie about Richard Elster, wordsmith, civilian advisor to the Bush Administration on the Iraq War, now retired – at least, retreated – to a decrepit house in the desert where he wishes only to contemplate his life and slow time. So Finley goes to live with Lewis as a houseguest, ostensibly to research his subject.
After a time, Elster’s daughter Jesse joins them from NYC, sent by her mother who is trying to separate Jesse from what she (the mother) regards as a sick, obsessive boyfriend. Then one day, Jesse disappears.
Time collapses for Elster, his world comes to an end. Elster’s “omega point.”
The novel’s final scenes take place once again in the gallery where the “psycho” stands in front of "Psycho" as he has done day after day. Only this last day of the exhibit, a woman enters and speaks to him. From clues, we are led to understand it is the thought-dead Jesse – or could be her.
DeLillo has constructed a dreamy introspection that examines the nature of love, time, aloneness, and seeing using motifs such as film to emphasize the dual and ephemeral quality of point-of-view, understanding, and reality. “Human perception is a saga of created reality.” Ultimately, he asks, can we ever know what is truth; what is right, or wrong? Can we depend on words to give our world meaning when the definition of those words change with time and need? I'm reminded of Umberto Eco who shares a love for complexity in his own fiction, uncertainty as a character trait of his heroes, and a deep philosophical regard for language and the meanings of words.
A novel so rich and dense, I need to read it twice. (Heh heh.) Great writer, want to read more of his stuff.
The only weakness in this novel is the character Jessie, but she almost works. Or maybe she does work. I haven't made up my mind yet. In any case, the limitations of her character do not get in the way of novel.
I recommend watching clips from '24 Hour Psycho' before and after reading this.
Point Omega can be read as the fourth book in a series of which Cosmopolis was the second: the four slender novellas that have followed DeLillo's sizable Underworld.
When I reread Point Omega, I did so slowly, though not quite at the pace suggested by the book, which opens and, in as near as one could get to a "spoiler" in a DeLillo novel, closes with a detailed consideration of Douglas Gordon's art work 24 Hour Psycho. In 24 Hour Psycho, the Hitchock film is slowed so that it takes 24 hours to watch in its entirety. Every moment, every eye opening, every sliver of light crawling across the floor, happens at a speed that is virtually nill.
The book tells two stories, three if you include those opening and closing sections. At first, it's the tale of a man who visits a reclusive thinker who'd played a strategic role in the second Iraq War, in the hopes of making a film of the man speaking. Then the thinker's daughter shows up, and when she suddenly disappears, the book becomes a consideration of her absence -- like a thriller shorn of any thrills, just the emptiness and fear, and the deeper emptiness that subsumes them when the girl and her disappearance become memories.
This isn't DeLillo at his best, though it is the first of the four novellas to end better than it begins (not including the framing 24 Hour Psycho sections).
DeLillo seems to try to approach reality through the unreal; sadly, his perception falls short and the story gets stuck in no man's land.
Beginning and ending are much more fascinating. An anonymous man spends his days watching an art installation featuring the film 'Psycho' by Alfred Hitchock in slow-motion. The run time of the movie has been prolonged to twenty-four hours. Here, DeLillo seems to be more in his element.
All things considered, a novella that tries to deliver more than it can handle.
Not my cuppa tea.
Richard's daughter, Jessica, comes out for a visit and their conversations include instrospective observations. Before long, they are enveloped in a comfortable familial intimacy. And then a devastating and mysterious event occurs which shatters their cocoon.
This novella has a still and stark beauty as the desert it is set in.
Literary criticism, such as on Wikipedia, reveals that Point Omega is a highly complex novel, offering alleys to very deep senses of meaning, as well as meaning found over a broad scope, involving various cultural references and hypertextuality. Uncovering those layers of meaning would take a very serious, and scholarly approach to reading, which shows us that Literature is a form of Art, capable of construing profound meaning, and recreating literature to take that position. Readers' and critics' unwillingness to follow the author into that labyrinth of meaning tells us more about the readers than about the author. No-one says a novel should be "user-friendly" or accessible to every type of reader, least of all the most complacent. With Point Omega DeLillo demonstrates that literature can still be great art, and for all we know, in a hundred years time Point Omega will be canonized as the ultimate novel to understand the early Twenty-First century.
To readers who do not want to fathom the deepest recesses of meaning, Point Omega can still be read as a thriller, although style and structure, would have it classified more with literary fiction, than the genre of ordinary thrillers.
Writing a short novel with obscure unresolved issues doesn't make it a masterpiece. I couldn't shake the feeling that DeLillo thought he had written a modern companion to one of the above mentioned novels or The Trial or Metamorphoses or something like one of them; and, it had potential but it didn't get there. He wasn't able to bring it to closure.
There's a line where a character quotes his wife as saying, "Why is it so hard to be serious, so easy to be too serious?" It's the punch line for everything wrong with a novel that takes itself too seriously and fails to be serious about anything.
It's DeLillo devoid of substance.