“Time seems to pass. The world happens, unrolling into moments, and you stop to glance at a spider pressed to its web. There is a quickness of light and a sense of things outlined precisely and streaks of running luster on the bay. You know more surely who you are on a strong bright day after a storm when the smallest falling leaf is stabbed with self-awareness. The wind makes a sound in the pines and the world comes into being, irreversibly, and the spider rides the wind-swayed web.”
* * *
So begins The Body Artist by Don DeLillo, the last novel I had to read for my 20th Century American Fiction course this semester. After reading The Bell Jar and The Day of the Locust, I’ve been pretty discouraged, as far as my reading goes. I really cared nothing about either of those books; I read them and had no real opinion, even after sitting through several class discussions. Before that, I read good books–The Sun Also Rises, The Sound and the Fury, and Their Eyes Were Watching God–but I’d read all those before. It’s been awhile since I’ve discovered a new and exciting book–one that really made me think, one I enjoyed so much I could barely stand to put it down.
So when I read this first passage from DeLillo’s novel this morning, I thought I’d found it. The passage is beautiful, and it’s destined to go into the little notebook I keep for all my favorite quotations.
The novel is short–a mere 126 pages–and I finished it just a few minutes ago. And it’s so intriguing. A woman’s husband commits suicide, and she returns to the secluded house where they had spent much of their very short marriage together. Lauren moves through her days, sort of numb, reeling from the shock of his death. Then, one day, she hears a sound upstairs and discovers a man who has been living in her house.
Strangely enough, she lets him stay. He seems to be mentally retarded in some way, but he has the incredible skills of mimicking a person’s voice and mannerisms. Frequently, he mimics Lauren’s own voice and that of her dead husband Rey’s, and she knows he’s been living in the house for awhile, eavesdropping on their lives. The relationship that Lauren and this man have is very strange. Then, one day, he leaves, and she never sees him again.
To be honest, I can’t figure a lot of this book out. DeLillo frequently brings up the question of time. How does it exist? Can we somehow move back and forth in time? If Rey is dead, but this strange man mimics his voice, does that mean he’s somehow still there? Still present?
And art. Lauren is classified as “the body artist.” She creates an art show where she transforms her body into so many different personnas. She is both male and female, old and young. She makes her body into art, which many patrons disagree with. So, again, DeLillo presents a situation, letting the reader wonder, “Is this art? How? Why? What purpose?”
I feel like I need to read it again–maybe multiple times. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully grasp the whole story. But I did enjoy it. I like the way it makes me really think about the story. Who was the man? Was he Lauren’s muse? Was he a culmination of the past and present? Should Lauren be sacrificing herself, her body, for her art?
Even more than these questions, though, I really appreciate DeLillo’s style. Many of the chapters begin with beautifully written passages like the one I’ve quoted above. DeLillo also uses descriptions of normal, everyday, mundane occurrences and manages to show the reader so much about the characters. He really is a great writer.
I think I have to understand the book a little more before it makes the list of Books that Changed My Life. But it’s still definitely an intriguing read, and one that I’m really glad to have finished.