Point Omega : a novel

by Don DeLillo

Paper Book, 2010




New York : Scribner, 2010.


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.

Media reviews

So many have projected upon DeLillo a notion of his fiction as 20th-century prophecy, his books as paranoia redeemed by real events. It’s no shock, then, to find him in this new century transfixed by slowness and continental drift, places where events are perpetual, but invisible. Elster has
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retreated to a landscape to ponder an endpoint where consciousness is transcended and “we pass completely out of being. Stones.” Unfortunately, the concept of DeLillo as a passive desert rock is far less compelling than when he’s demanding we see what’s underneath them.
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5 more
Although Mr. DeLillo extracts considerable suspense from his story, while building a Pinteresque sense of dread, there is something suffocating and airless about this entire production. Unlike the people in his most memorable novels, the three characters here do not live in a recognizable America
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or recognizable reality — rather, they feel like roles written for a stylized and highly contrived theater piece... They are roles desperately in need of actors to flesh them out and give them life.
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Don DeLillo's Point Omega is a hard book to critique because it is chock-full of brilliance and ought to be supported simply because we need books that allow humanity to think about the condition of being human. But, in fact, Point Omega's excess of thought and brilliance is its biggest problem.
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Slight though it may be, the book totters under the burden of its complexity.
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While I'll always admire DeLillo, I don't think I've enjoyed reading him since the rightly famous opening of 1997's Underworld. Since then it's been too much medicine and not enough sugar. Maybe that's the point. Maybe DeLillo is arguing that our prediabetic asses don't deserve any more sweets, no
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respite from our well-earned sufferings. He wouldn't be the first prophet, or novelist, to have said as much. The problem with this position is that it doesn't leave much incentive to read him.
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"Point Omega" is a splendid, fierce novel by a deep practitioner of the form.
Reading late-phase DeLillo tends to make me feel like a late-phase DeLillo character: distant, confused, catatonic, drifting into dream worlds, missing dentist appointments, forgetting the meanings of basic words, and staring at everyday objects as if they were holy relics.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Sutpen
I'm big on endings. If a novel ties everything together at the end in a way that impresses me, I'm willing to forgive a whole lot of frustration over the course of the journey. Now, Point Omega, at 117 pages, only barely qualifies as a "journey," but I found the three sources of ideas in the book
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(they're technically characters, but the characterization is bare-bones) to be pretty boring. The aged intellectual Elster's speeches consist of a few interesting, if broadly sketched, notions accompanied by a whole lot of nonsensical academese. Finley sounds like he wishes he sounded more like Elster (he needn't worry, incidentally--he's well on his way), and the unnamed (or is he...?) central figure in the first and last chapters reminds me of a lot of people I took English classes with in college who thought their ideas were much more interesting than they really were.

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.
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LibraryThing member browner56
Don DeLillo is a masterful writer. To me, the best of his fiction has helped to define and illuminate some of the most significant events in the past 50 years of the American existence: the JFK assassination (“Libra”), the Cold War (“Underworld”), and 9/11 (“Falling Man”). Those books
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remain some of the most memorable novels I’ve read; in fact, the first 60 pages of “Underworld” represent the most compelling story-telling I can recall.

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.
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LibraryThing member gergacheck
Sunsets were nothing more than dying light now, the dimming of chance.

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
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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.
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LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
This was a quick engaging read that took me in more and more over the course of the reading. Brought together with careful character sketches/constructions and lyrical prose, DeLillo's work here was both memorable and thought-provoking. It stood up to (and perhaps even surpassed) the works of his
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I've read in the past, and I have no doubt that it's a work I'll come back to. It's something you'll likely read in one sitting, and it will likely also stick with you. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member mikemillertime
Slow, dull and pointless, a tired retread of DeLillo's earlier works examining the noise of information, reality, pop culture, etc. Characters are bland and shallow, plot is meandering and poorly explained, the themes remain underdeveloped and sloppily tied into the novel. Maybe avant-garde
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diehards will love it, but I found it to be a very uninteresting read overall. At least it's very short at only 115 pages.
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LibraryThing member Beezie
Dear Simon and Shuster,
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member grunin
Usually I don't write spoilers, but most of the other reviewers seem to have entirely misunderstood the framing device and it's relationship to the plot. So:

* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *

- In the opening chapter, we meet Dennis, who is obsessively watching 24-Hour Psycho. He sees Jim and Elster,
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- 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.
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LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Several interesting things and a good writing style, but hardly worth buying at the exorbitant price it was first offered. Worth borrowing from the library.
LibraryThing member saitchy
Mr DeLillo must have been left exhausted by his work on the huge sized and hugely brilliant woirk Underworld, as his subsequent books have been somewhat less chunky. This is a very slim volume that is still packed with brilliance. You can read it in a few hours and then sopedn the next few days
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pondering it!
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LibraryThing member mckall08
This is a short book.

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
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Emblematic with the narrative are his visits to "24 Hours Psycho" - a slow motion exhibit of the Hitchcock film.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
I have and read and thoroughly enjoyed Libra, White Noise, Underworld, and Fallen Man, but this book did not work for me. The introspective esoteric style of Don Delillo works for a large book but so dominates this short novel and creates tedium. The 117 pages seemed like 1117 pages. If this had
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been a longer novel I would have never have finished it. It was much too vague and I needed some resolution to what happened to the daughter. Too much for me "to get it".
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LibraryThing member inaudible
This is my first DeLillo, and it is a very, very good novel. As I wrote elsewhere, if an unknown writer had written this book, we would read it in awe, but for DeLillo, it has to stand up to his entire oeuvre.

The only weakness in this novel is the character Jessie, but she almost works. Or maybe
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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.
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LibraryThing member franoscar
I don't know. Spoilers are here. This is a nutty book. But short! The main narrative is narrated by a filmmaker who wants to make a film of an intellectual talking about his experience as part of the defense establishment. I assume it is anti-war. There is some anti-war words. The 2 are at the
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intellectual's house in the desert, and they talk, and they are in the desert, and his daughter shows up. The filmmaker kinda sexually harasses her, and she goes missing & presumed lost in the desert. Was the filmmaker involved? He concludes that now his movie will never get made but...who knows.... The framing narrative is told in 3rd person about a guy hanging out & watching an art installation of Psycho slowed down so it takes 24 hours to watch it. He is watching Psycho. The 2 guys come in & disappoint him by not staying. But then we find out that the daughter meets this guy...so is this guy the kidnapper/murderer? Does he call the filmmaker as they are leaving town? Hard to say & I'm not sure what I learned.
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LibraryThing member carterepstein
Despite strong reviews, I found it disappointing in some regards, almost too spare; yet its tone and mood is one of spareness, not quite despondency, but an intense search for meaning, an almost obsessive desire to slow time down
LibraryThing member Limelite
Sandwiched between scenes that take place in an art museum in front of an installation of "Psycho" that plays soundlessly and slowly over 24 hours and is witnessed day after day by a single “psycho,” is the story of a father-daughter relationship and a pseudo father-son relationship played out
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against a desert back-drop.

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.
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LibraryThing member Disquiet
Read this through quickly when it first came out -- thank you, Amazon pre-order -- and then again this past month, as I was fiddling with a short essay about an earlier book, Cosmopolis.

Point Omega can be read as the fourth book in a series of which Cosmopolis was the second: the four slender
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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).
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LibraryThing member WorldInColour
Very particular mix of the abstract and the intellectual level. Main character Richard Elster, a pseudo-Nietzsche kind of character, lives in isolation and ventilates his ideas about society and humanity in general. Jim Finley, the narrator and companion of Elster, seems to have no added value in
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the story. Basically, this part of the story features a lot of rambling, rambling that's interesting at times but seems very distant for the most part.

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.
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LibraryThing member nmele
Don DeLillo's latest is a brief, cryptic and thought-provoking novel which references the Hitchcock classic, "Psycho", as well as more contemporary traumas like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and divorce.
LibraryThing member MichaelDC
This is a novella about, well, hm, not sure quite sure what. Mostly, I think, it seems to be about the post-9/11 condition in the United States, although there are few direct references to the event. It is mostly about a filmmaker who is trying to make a film about a scholar, but something goes
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horribly awry during the process (no spoilers here.) I found the first 20 pages or so to be nearly unbearably pretentious and stilted (maybe on purpose?), but the final part (the "horribly awry" part), is very compelling and beautifully written, and somehow does capture that sense of loss and sense of security that many of us have felt in the last decade or so, even though the "story," such as it is, has only a tangential relationship to 9/11 and the subsequent Iraq War. Keep in mind that there is no real plot here, mostly a situation, and I think the book has more to do with the feeling rather than what happens (or not.) I can't say I loved it or maybe even liked it, but I will probably come back to it in the future, there's just something haunting about it that I can't quite shake off.

I bought it at the Barnes and Noble at Union Station in DC, needed something to read in a hurry, and read it over a few days on various forms of transportation.
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LibraryThing member edwinbcn
Reading Point Omega one unmistakably feels one is reading a fine work of literary fiction, but the question is how deep the reader wants to go to uncover deeper layers of meaning.

Literary criticism, such as on Wikipedia, reveals that Point Omega is a highly complex novel, offering alleys to very
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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.
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LibraryThing member cameling
A young filmmaker, Jim Finley, seeks out Richard Elster, an elderly scholar who was engaged by the government to provide ideas towards their defense strategies, who now spends most of his time in the desert. Jim's goal is to persuade Richard to agree to participating in a one-take film, where the
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film's focus would be Richard and his thoughts. His planned 2 - 3 day visit stretches into weeks and he starts to lose his own fervor for his film as he falls under the spell of the desert.

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.
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LibraryThing member DinoReader
Thin characterization seasoned with stale Pantheism masquerading as progeny of Notes from Underground or The Stranger.

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
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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.
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LibraryThing member JoePhelan
I wanted to like _Point Omega_, and did like some things about it. I'm longing to go to the desert now. The deliberate drawn-out meditation on time and pace, however, made the book seem much longer than it really is. I may have to come back to it another time to give it a fairer shot, when I have a
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bit more patience and stillness of my own available.
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LibraryThing member jscape2000
An odd little book, but enjoyable. DeLillo has a point to make about observation, it's impact on the viewer and on the viewed. This is a book with voyeurs, artsy film screenings, star gazing and endless self reflection. I'm sure I haven't digested all of it, but you can't see without being changed.
LibraryThing member JimElkins
Idea-driven novels have traditionally been regarded as precarious. (It would be good to know the history of this idea; it was in force in the reception of Kundera in the 1980s, but it probably derives from the reception of 19th century realist novels.) "Point Omega" is very brief -- cleverly set by
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the designers at Picador, with a large trim size and ample kerning, so that it scrapes by at 117 pages. That brevity points to its conceptual nature, and so do the opening and closing chapters (12 pages and 16 pages) that describe Douglas Gordon's "24 Hour Psycho," the slowed-down video of the Hitchcock film.

An idea-driven or conceptual or philosophical novel that is also brief runs a special risk, because the brevity declares that the resources of the full novel are not needed (no extensive character development, minimal psychological depth, minimal descriptive prose, a reduced capacity to be immersive absorptive). It announces, in effect, that the author has had an idea that needs to be put as fiction, but in such a spare way that it is only the novel's freedom of invention and narrative that matter.

Here the opening rumination on Gordon's video introduces themes of patience, of not knowing what meaning something has, of listening and looking without judging, of being alone in reflection. The same themes reappear in both principal characters. Human connections are programmatically absent: both men are apart from their wives; the narrator doesn't quite connect with the only woman in the novel; in the end, the "anonymous" viewer doesn't quite connect with a woman he meets in the Museum of Modern Art. The video piece makes the experience of film unreal, and the desert setting of most of the book makes ordinary city life unreal, and both places are unreal in themselves.

The book does sometimes behave like a longer, richer, less conceptually-driven novel, especially in the rare passages when DeLillo takes time to describe people or places other than the video screening room or the desert. The same effect, of the possibility of a different kind of novel, also surfaces when DeLillo inserts examples of alienated experience: a woman who walks downstairs backwards (p. 32), the extinct North American camel, the age of the universe. These function as condensed or tentative allegories of the book's themes.

The widely distributed, apparently random moments of description and of allegory seem odd or imperfectly realized, just because there could have been many more of them: it seems DeLillo thought he had to be parsimonious because his book was short, but that also means every such passage attracts attention, and its placement, length, and motivation seem less secure.

Philosophically, philosophical novels are problematic because the ideas they offer seem (I suppose mainly to philosophically-inclined critics) to be uninteresting as philosophy. In this case, the principal character has theories about how real life, real existence, is revealed when you attend to the low-level continuous sense that you're going to die. "Point Omega" proposes, in effect, that the temporal dilation of Gorgon's video, and the spatial and temporal dilation of the desert, can bring on that low-level awareness. In that state of mind, people become shells or tokens, their inner life inaccessible, their words unimportant, their physical existence insecure. Philosophically, it is not really news. And yet to say "Point Omega" "proposes" such-and-such a thing "in effect" is a way of saying it doesn't propose any such thing, because it doesn't propose anything, because it isn't about effect, because it's a novel.
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