Point Omega – Don DeLillo (2010)

In recent years DeLillo’s output has been frequent but very condensed, and his new novel, Point Omega, is the most spare and dense so far.  While only 117 pages, I found it hard to read more than about 20 pages at a sitting.

I don’t consider myself much of a literary critic, but here are a few thoughts on the book.  It is bookended by scenes set at MOMA in NYC in 2006, where a screening of the real-world video piece 24 Hour Psycho was shown.  DeLillo attended, and apparently the novel began from the seeds of writing about it (he said to Thomas DePietro, “It was only after I finished work on the prologue that I began to think seriously about what would follow.”).  The piece takes Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho and lengthens it to run for an entire day – which boils down to slowing it by a factor of twelve, so that each frame lingers for about half a second.

I have seen the piece at a museum as well, and it does have a strange impact.  By slowing down the film, it seems to slow down one’s experience of time. Simply waiting for a character to complete a simple movement might take a minute or more.  In the book, a strange character lingers in the room with the film, coming back day after day, wanting to watch the entire thing in one 24 hour stretch.  He observes other people coming in and out of the room, he moves from one side of the projection screen to the other, sees how the polarity (right hand to left hand) flips.

In Psycho, we have three (or is it four) main characters. Everyone remembers Norman Bates, but as DeLillo notes no one really remembers the name of the character played by Janet Leigh, it is simply Janet Leigh.  Then there is Detective Arbogast, and there is ‘mother’.

It feels to me almost as if DeLillo has mapped these film characters into the main desert section of the novel, but not in a literal way.  Elster is perhaps the detective, an old scholar who appears to be near an end, exhausted. His daughter Jessie is almost not there at all, she’s like ‘mother’ or perhaps like Janet Leigh after the shower scene (which occurs fairly early in the film), a spectral presence. Jim Finley, the filmmaker, doesn’t really seem like Norman, but he is a bit inexplicable, in his willingness to simply hang out at the desert home with Elster without really pushing very hard to make the film happen. Then there is also the mysterious Dennis, perhaps the man watching Psycho at the museum, perhaps seeing Jessie in NYC, perhaps following her out to the desert.

The whole thing seems like a kind of meditation on time and space, how we play with it in our media (and we can even speed it up or slow it down), and how there is a sense that some places embody deep time.  The desert seems to be particularly resonant for DeLillo, it’s a place where time seems to run at a different pace than we’re used to in the cities, it’s a place where one can think differently, ponder the unknowns.  To note that “the three characters here do not live in a recognizable America or recognizable reality” (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times review) strikes me as  beside the point.  DeLillo is not depicting ‘reality’ rather he seems to be depicting thinking and time itself, through his spare yet dense prose.

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  • PRICLE  On May 18, 2010 at 7:21 am

    I agree with many of your conclusions about this unresolved narrative. The imperfect correlation of the characters in the desert to the characters in Psycho is maddening and refreshing. We live in a time when our narratives are predictable, everything is sewn up at the end, and we find out whodunit. At the close of the novel, and this may be the whodunit impulse speaking, I came to the conclusion that Jim was both Norman and Dennis, and that he was a sexually motivated psychopathic killer whose “real” identity the reader cannot be sure of. Was he even a filmmaker, was he separated from a wife, does it matter? Point Omega is not a crime novel, there are not enough clues to come to a resolution. I agree that it seems to be a depiction of time. At the same time, I feel it is a meditation on loneliness, the separation of people from each other and from themselves, and on the nature of identity. I am left feeling thrilled by the uncertainties of this book, that I don’t really know what happened and who is who. I feel as if I’ve woken up from a vivid dream and want to go back to sleep to find out what comes next.

  • Curt  On May 20, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Thanks for your comments. The idea that Jim may be playing both roles is interesting…

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