Perhaps the key to unlocking Don DeLillo's COSMOPOLIS can be found
in the dedication. The surreal tale of the mega-rich Eric Packer
traveling across New York City in his custom white stretch
limousine to get a haircut is dedicated to novelist Paul Auster,
whose "New York Trilogy" (CITY OF GLASS, GHOSTS and THE LOCKED
ROOM) the book resembles in tone and commitment to its own internal
logic. Indeed, at several points in the brief COSMOPOLIS, it is
hard to remember that the book is only dedicated to Auster and not,
in fact, written by him. As various individuals find their way into
the limousine and engage in elliptical conversations with Packer,
for example, Auster's difficult but engaging novels come to mind.
However, whereas Auster's trilogy borders on the hypnotic,
DeLillo's novel feels stilted and overly contrived.
DeLillo also borrows from James Joyce, not only by telling the
story of a man wandering through a large city through the course of
a single day ala ULYSSES, but by adopting Joyce's style of internal
narrative for a passage late in the novel. The homage, like his
nods to Auster, is not entirely successful, however.
In fact, COSMOPOLIS shines only when DeLillo writes like DeLillo.
When Packer's limousine is halted by a violent attack on a major
financial institution and he witnesses a man's self-immolation, the
reader is treated to the author's gifts for describing the feel of
crowds and cataclysmic events. The nature and behavior of crowds
have been a major component of many DeLillo novels, including WHITE
NOISE, MAO II and UNDERWORLD, and few if any contemporary authors
dissect them as deftly. Still, even this passage sags a bit due to
the reader's knowledge that DeLillo has purposely avoided the 9/11
attacks by setting his tale in April of 2000. That decision adds to
the contrived feel of the novel and is a bitter disappointment for
readers who consider DeLillo one of the few authors who might
tackle the enormity of 9/11 in meaningful ways.
COSMOPOLIS does have some interesting things to say about the
nature of wealth, sexual mores, violence and mind-body dualism. But
the novel is far from DeLillo's best work, failing to address any
of those topics in a truly engaging way and utterly avoiding the
one topic that hovers over the book in absentia.
Reviewed by Rob Cline (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 21, 2011