25 Nov

I suppose I could be seen to be abdicating my duty as a literary journalist by pointing readers in the direction of Martin Amis’s cerebral encomium

Martin Amis Copyright 2011 Robert Birnbaum

of Don Delillo and more specifically Delillo’s new and first ever short fiction collection The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories (Scribner). That is, as opposed to offering my own pale insights into both or either Delillo or Amis.

And, no doubt, sloth enters into the roiling wellspring of motives. Okay then.

About Martin Amis, whom I have had the delight of conversing with regularly since the publication of his compelling novel Time’s Arrow and most recently coincidental with his novel House of Meetings,I find him to be a more accessible and readable essayist than novelist.Thus this note.

Amis begins his piece playfully, bordering on glib. opining:

When we say that we love a writer’s work, we are always stretching the truth: what we really mean is that we love about half of it. Sometimes rather more than half, sometimes rather less…

…Our subject, here, is literary evaluation, so of course everything I say is mere opinion, unverifiable and also unfalsifiable, which makes the ground shakier still. But I stubbornly suspect that only the cultist, or the academic, is capable of swallowing an author whole. Writers are peculiar, readers are particular: it is just the way we are…

Of course what follows is aconcise lesson how one could read Delillo (that’s what good critics do) whom Amis calls “… the laureate of terror, of modern or postmodern terror, and the way it hovers and shimmers in our subliminal minds.”

And then this resonant conclusion:

Creative gaiety, a sense of fun and play, has been too firmly suppressed by the almost morbid tentativeness of his most recent novels and novellas. Literature seeks to give “instruction and delight”: Dryden’s tag, formulated three and a half centuries ago, has worn pretty well. We reflect, all the same, that whereas instruction doesn’t always delight, delight always instructs. Very broadly, we read fiction to have a good time—though this is not to deny that the gods have equipped DeLillo with the antennae of a visionary. There is right field, and there is left field. He comes from third field—aslant, athwart. And I love “The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories.”

Currently reading The Drop by Michael Connelly (Little Brown)

One Response to “ABDICATION”


  1. By George « ourmaninboston - December 1, 2011

    […] I do find something worth reading, as in the recent New Yorker publication of Martin Amis’s enthusiastic appraisal of Don Delillo and his recent (and first) story […]

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