I started reading this while listening to the soundtrack to Synecdoche, New York, a film that is centered around a theater director/playwright named C...moreI started reading this while listening to the soundtrack to Synecdoche, New York, a film that is centered around a theater director/playwright named Caden Cotard, and as such incorporates his work into the narrative (and features it in a prominent and mind-fuck meta-narrative fashion in the latter half of the film). I felt like there was some kinship between DeLillo's strange play and something this fictional playwright, cooked up in the mind of Charlie Kaufman, would have involved himself with.
The similarities are rather superficial and mainly consist of a general strangeness at moments and a dialogue that, for the most part, is thoroughly unrealistic, though purposely so. DeLillo is well-known for writing in a manner that comes off as cramming the personal musing of nonfiction essays into the the format of a literary novel. Characters appearing more as the chess pieces rather than the players. Et cetera. I have no problem with this approach myself. To me it's just another medium on the rack of media, styles, formats, fonts, colors, tricks, gags, time-weathered techniques, and so on. Just another messenger that I won't shoot on sight, rather, I'll wait to hear what message they bring and then decide.
So, here I find DeLillo ultimately pulls off something interesting. This play has elements of Beckett almost too obvious to mention. It deftly wields that holy trinity of absurdity, hilariousness and seriousness. It keeps a sense tingling within that DeLillo's up to something Bigger than you realize. Leads you along, has you playing detective out of the corner of your eye. Keeps you doubting, buying it, doubting, buying it. Vague and silly one moment, a big serious slap in the face the next.
Oh, the play's mostly about this guy who ends up flying around the world by accident while simply trying to get to Valparaiso, Indiana from Chicago. An event which becomes the centerpiece for what mostly feels like DeLillo's meditations on the Information Age, celebrity culture, how these things shape a sense of self, etc, meditations which are mostly something worth beholding.
There's a Greek Chorus in the role of "television commercials" which are recited in the form of poetic rhyming couplets. E.g.:
"Cappuccino in a foaming cup Anonymous sex with the armrests up That's your overnight flight on Air Reliance"
"A video screen attached to your seat Another pacifying baby treat That's platinum class on Air Reliance"
I think that the motif of the exercise bike symbolizes the quasi-paradoxical sense of having traveled far but having not traveled at all. And this naturally segues into some vague ideas about televisual culture.
There's another televisual notion that crops up which is that life is only verifiable if it's on camera. Clearly a comment of sorts on the mass delusions/promulgations of an almost axiomatic connection between fame and self-worth. For the more philosophically inclined, it can get one's engines humming about a variety of epistemic quandaries...
DeLillo certainly gives one some breathing room to figure some of this out on their own without being led by the hand to and/or bludgeoned over the head by a list of opinions chiseled into stone. But every so often he'll throw down a blunt exclamation like "What's more dramatic than the struggle to become a man or woman in the world? What's more rife with danger and pain?" and then he'll high-tail it right back to letting you play detective, while still poking your brain, tickling your belly and tugging your heartstrings from backstage.(less)