Don DeLillo: Silence (2020, Scribner) 3 stars

Review of 'Silence' on 'LibraryThing'

4 stars

When you read work of an old writer, one who’s famous, it takes some toll: you might be thinking of that person’s prior work, how they viewed the world back in the day.returnreturnI read DeLillo’s Libra before I read The Silence. That book was a mighty kind of marathon around dialogue and scenes; it was masterfully told, but I quickly tired of the main vein. That’s what killed the book for me.returnreturnThis time around, DeLillo’s taken the pulse of modern times for a lot of western people by proving that he masters brief dialogue over carefully crafted and rhythmic language that swings between conversations in different worlds.returnreturnThe book takes place in 2022 and starts off inconspicuously.returnreturn“He was Swedish,” she said.return“Who?”return“Mr. Celsius.”return“Did you sneak a look at your phone?”return“You know how these things happen.”return“They come swimming out of deep memory. And when the man’s first name comes your way, I will begin to feel the pressure.”return“What pressure?”return“To produce Mr. Fahrenheit’s first name.” She said, “Go back to your sky-high screen.”return“This flight. All the long flights. All the hours. Deeper than boredom.”return“Activate your tablet. Watch a movie.”return“I feel like talking. No headphone. We both feel like talking.”return“No earbuds,” she said. “Talk and write.”returnreturnShe was Jim’s wife, dark-skinned, Tessa Berens, Caribbean-European-Asian origins, a poet whose work appeared often in literary journals. She also spent time, online, as an editor with an advisory group that answered questions from subscribers on subjects ranging from hearing loss to bodily equilibrium to dementia.returnreturnHere, in the air, much of what the couple said to each other seemed to be a function of some automated process, remarks generated by the nature of airline travel itself. None of the ramblings of people in rooms, in restaurants, where major motion is stilled by gravity, talk free-floating. All these hours over oceans or vast landmasses, sentences trimmed, sort of self-encased, passengers, pilots, cabin attendants, every word forgotten the moment the plane sets down on the tarmac and begins to taxi endlessly toward an unoccupied jetway.returnreturnOne of the things that I enjoyed most about this book is that I think DeLillo doesn’t try to seem smart when writing. You can always tell when a writer wants their ego fed by injecting stuff designed to make others slap them on the back.returnreturnMost of the dialogue leaves everything about scenery to the reader:returnreturn“You can’t help yourself.”return“I don’t want to help myself,” she said. “All I want to do is get home and look at a blank wall.”returnreturnThis is a thoughtful, carefully written, short, and beautiful novel. There is a lot of material in it, most of which make do for re-reading. It’s a jostling book in its ease. If I must compare it to anything, I’d go with Richard Linklater’s Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy, or perhaps Terry Malick’s Tree of Life.