Bennet's Reviews > The Body Artist

The Body Artist by Don DeLillo
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Feb 01, 12

bookshelves: novels-stories

Couldn't sleep last night and re-read this, which had the effect of a rhythmic massage, primarily to a stiff neck and knotted shoulders that notably relaxed as I read. Something about the plainly poetic prose, with its quietly rhythmic language and the familiar, even mundane, details, rendered somehow incandescent in the telling, as if by a gentle voice reading barely aloud by dim lantern light.

This is a dream of a book, little more than a hundred pages, likely to disappoint if you're unwilling to forgo plot and suspend disbelief for the sake of metaphor.Because really that's all this is, a sustained metaphor, made a story only by way of a character's (the wife's) mostly psychic progression, which takes place almost entirely inside her house.

It's a dreamy but not comforting story. To start, it's just another morning of habituated married company being taken entirely for granted. But immediately following this, the husband, Rey, dies. After his wife helps him find his lost keys, he drives away and commits suicide in his ex-wife's house, who calls the current wife to say: "This man, it was not a question of chemicals in his brain. It was him who he was. Frankly you didn't have time to find out. Because I will tell you something. We were two people with one life, and it was his life. I stayed with him until it ruined my health, for which I am still paying the price."

No kidding. This man. This strange man. Rey. If you could just slap him, just flat out slap some goddamn sense into him, damn him.

But this is not about him. It's about her, his wife, the current wife. We follow her as she proceeds alone in their rambling old beach house seeking the source of an insistently mysterious sound coming from behind the upstairs walls that turns out to be another strange man, this one of indeterminate name and origin, suffering some mental disability that has him hiding. He's spent much of his isolated time overhearing many married conversations, and has a knack for repeating verbatim what the wife and her husband have been saying to each other, and in their voices.

Very creepy, and works brilliantly as metaphor, I think, though my opinion is higher than that of most other GR reviewers. Ultimately the language makes the metaphor work for me, especially on a sleepless but dreamy night, alone with book in hand.

"Nothing else makes sense. It is the thing no one understands. But it makes and shapes you. And in these nights since he'd left she sometimes sat with a book in her lap, eyes closed, and felt him living somewhere in the dark, and it is colder where he is, it is wintrier there, and she wanted to take him in, try to know him in the spaces where his chaos lurks, in all the soft-cornered rooms and unraveling verbs, the parts of speech where he is meant to locate his existence, and in the material place where Rey lives in him, alive again, word for word, touch for touch, and she opened and closed her eyes and thought in a blink the world had changed."

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message 2: by Eric_W (new)

Eric_W Great review. I struggle with DeLilo. A former colleague of mine at the college just wrote a book about him, so there's obviously interest on campus, but I have just never been able to enjoy his writing. As far as sleepless nights, one of my fantasies is to have a bout of insomnia so I could stay up and read or listen to audiobooks all night. Usually, I'm off to never-never land within 2 or 3 minutes in spite of heavy doses of Mountain Dew.

Bennet Ha, ha, yeah, though for some reason you don't strike me as a Mountain Dew man. My responses to DeLillo are inconsistent. White Noise and Underworld are the only big books that sustained me. I'm better suited to his short works.

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