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1001 book reviews > Mao II by Don DeLillo

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message 1: by Diane (new)

Diane | 1997 comments Rating 2.5 stars
Read: May 2017

I can't seem to bond with DeLillo's writing. I loathed The Body Artist and didn't care for Falling Man, either. It took me years to steel up the courage to read another of his books. This one actually started out really well, but fell apart for me part way through. I am discouraged that I have to read 3 more of his books to complete the list. These 3 books, however, are his highest rated books. So maybe there is hope...

This story is about a reclusive writer (go figure) and his attempt to re-emerge into public life. He is passionate about his writing, but is at odds with the celebrity he receives. He is, in a sense, held hostage by this celebrity, and subsequently becomes more reclusive. Through a series of events, he comes in contact with a man associated with a Lebanese terrorist group who is holding a Swiss writer hostage. He makes the decision to go to Lebanon to negotiate for this writer's release. My favorite character in the book is Karen, another character who spends her time trying to disappear - from a religious cult, from her parents, into her career and the needs of the homeless community, etc.

Don't get me wrong, there were good elements of this book. I just don't care for DeLillo's style of writing.


message 2: by Tracy (new)

Tracy (tstan) | 559 comments White Noise was actually really good. I didn't care much for The Body Artist, and Falling Man was okay. This one is on my shelf, and may stay there for a bit..


message 3: by Gail (last edited Jul 22, 2019 08:56AM) (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1241 comments I have not yet read many Don DeLillo books but I didn't seem to connect with this particular one.

Mao II is a story of a small group of characters centered around an aging author, Bill Gray, who has turned his desire for seclusion into something more important to the literary world than his actual books. Although the motivation initially may have been to allow the author isolation in which to write, out of the context of interacting with the world, all the author appears to be able to do is rewrite, refine, edit, and otherwise obsess about the written word rather than actually "write". The other characters include a poet who has been kidnapped by a small Marxist terrorist group in Lebanon, a young man named Scott who has turned his whole reason for being into taking care of the aging author to the point that he has taken over the author's decision making on almost all practical fronts but lost his own center, the young man's lover, Karen, who is planning for the next world, Brita, a photographer who photographs authors and Charles who is an old friend of the author and would like to be his publisher. Charles introduces Bill to the Marxist liaison in hopes of rescuing the young kidnapped poet by using Bill's famous seclusion as a PR draw to bring needed attention to the Marxist group in Lebanon.

Clearly, DeLillo is able to balance and juggle this motley mix of characters in a way that kept the story interesting. I found Karen and Brita to be especially intriguing as they had unique and clear minds of their own and did not bend (other than sexually) to the whims and wills of the men in the story. However, the central theme that terrorist's are the story tellers of the new age and novelist's have lost their voice has as its foundation a premise that the novelist at one time had the power to change cultures and that subsequently that power has been lost.
Here is a quote: "Beckett is the last writer to shape the way we think and see. After him, the major work involves midair explosions and crumbled buildings. This is the new tragic narrative".
Somehow I have my doubts about Beckett changing the culture....he may have changed academic culture but if you compare that to Hunger Games or Harry Potter you wonder what "culture" refers to.
What I felt worked about the book was the theme of crowds versus individuals. DeLillo folds in many of the crowd based tragic activities of the day (1989 although published in 1991) including Tiananmen Square, the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, the marriage of thousands at one time by Rev. Moon, and Tompkins Park a forest of homeless people in Manhattan. The book also refers to the World Trade Centers and seems to predict the future on that front.
So yes...an intriguing book but as I did not care for any of the male characters because of their obsessive self-involvement I did not find it to be very satisfying. I gave it three stars.


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