is Don DeLillo's 13th novel. His reputation as one of the most provocative and innovative of American writers is assured, thanks to such books as Underworld
, but this new outing is as likely to challenge the author's legion of admirers as much as it will exhilarate them--and there's nothing wrong with that.
DeLillo's protagonist this time is a well-heeled American, Eric Packer, who sets out one eventful day for a haircut. Gazing through the windows of his white limousine (and availing himself of its state-of-the-art technology), this self-made millionaire takes in the spectacle of financiers being murdered, the funeral of a rapper and some violent anti-globalisation protests. As we come to know DeLillo's anti-hero, we realise that Eric Packer is by no means the most ingratiating of individuals. Cheating on his new wife, he specialises in using people in a cynical and exploitative way. And as this self-serving captain of industry takes an ever-more dangerous journey through a bizarrely rendered New York, it's inevitable that comparisons with Tom Wolfe's classic Bonfire of the Vanities will spring to mind. Resemblances of plot aside, however, the book is a very different animal. Wolfe's narrative had the epic spread of a latter-day War and Peace, whereas DeLillo sharpens and condenses his prose in Cosmopolis to produce an altogether more concise novel.
There are two ways to approach Cosmopolis: as a rudely pointed dissection of the American Dream, or as a surreal, symbolic (and disturbing) road trip. This is not a comforting book, but a bracing and caustic one. --Barry Forshaw
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From Publishers Weekly
DeLillo skates through a day in the life of a brilliant and precocious New Economy billionaire in this monotone 13th novel, a study in big money and affectlessness. As one character remarks, 28-year-old Eric Packer "wants to be one civilization ahead of this one." But on an April day in the year 2000, Eric's fortune and life fall apart. The story tracks him as he traverses Manhattan in his stretch limo. His goal: a haircut at Anthony's, his father's old barber. But on this day his driver has to navigate a presidential visit, an attack by anarchists and a rapper's funeral. Meanwhile, the yen is mounting, destroying Eric's bet against it. The catastrophe liberates Eric's destructive instinct-he shoots another character and increases his bet. Mostly, the action consists of sequences in the back of the limo (where he stages meetings with his doctor, various corporate officers and a New Economy guru) interrupted by various pit stops. He lunches with his wife of 22 days, Elise Shifrin. He has sex with two women, his art consultant and a bodyguard. He is hit in the face with a pie by a protester. He knows he is being stalked, and the novel stages a final convergence between the ex-tycoon and his stalker. DeLillo practically invented the predominant vernacular of the late '90s (the irony, the close reading of consumer goods, the mock complexity of technobabble) in White Noise, but he seems surprisingly disengaged here. His spotlighted New Economy icon, Eric, doesn't work, either as a genius financier (he is all about gadgetry, not exchange-there's no love of the deal in his "frozen heart") or a thinker. The threats posed by the contingencies that he faces cannot lever him out of his recalcitrant one-dimensionality. DeLillo is surely an American master, but this time out, he is doodling.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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