Anna Klein's Reviews > Cosmopolis

Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo
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Sep 06, 07

Read in May, 2003

Eric Parker, 28 years old and a billionaire asset manager, is on his way across Manhattan in his luxurious white stretch limo to get his hair cut. He's also betting against the yen. While he loses catastrophic amounts of money, he is visited en route by various advisers of the financial and technological scene, as well as by a physician (who confirms his nagging fears: his prostate is asymmetrical). He also makes several stops along the way, sometimes in order to rendezvous with his wife of three weeks, Elise Shifrin, the poetess (who, incidentally, keeps popping up in unexpected places), sometimes in order to have sex with various other women. His progress is halted at first by a presidential procession, later by a disastrous political demonstration, and finally by a dead rapper's funeral. As the day progresses into evening and Eric's situation becomes more and more unglued, he witnesses events on his spycam before they actually occur. Then he learns from his primary bodyguard, Torval, that there is a credible threat against his person. A famous pastry stalker nails him in the face with a pie. He takes part in a scene involving hundreds of nude people being filmed for a movie. The more he loses, the freer he feels, leading him to set himself up for his own surreal meltdown.

Post-modern is the word that popped into my mind as I read COSMOPOLIS, except that DeLillo doesn't quite manage to pull off post-modern. While this book wasn't as bad as I expected after reading some of the other reviews, it was still remarkably flat, toneless. A typical slice of conversation: "Yes. But I'm feeling a change. I'm making a change. Did you look at the menu? They have green tea ice cream. This is something you might like. People change. I know what's important now." Eric is a one-dimensional guy and his mental ramblings, as succinct as they may be, don't convey much of a sense of anything. While the theme -- the chaotic and unconformed will prevail -- is highlighted in a somewhat amusing manner (by the asymmetrical prostate, nonetheless), and while several portions of the book -- the burning man, the conversation during the doctor's examination, and the entire last chapter -- were sufficiently unsettling to cause me to think twice about them, my overall impression is of a forced, uninspired tale with dead details, dreadful dialogue, and cardboard characters. But the prose, at least, was above ordinary, unaffected and remote. And the ending actually worked -- enough so that I wish I could give this book three and a half stars instead of just three.

Impressive, COSMOPOLIS is certainly not. But there are enough (albiet faint) flashes of brilliance in this uncomfortably sterile book that I'm going to look up DeLillo's older work, and, if you haven't already, I can suggest you do so too.
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