The Body Artist: A Novel Hardcover – Feb 6 2001
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Don DeLillo's reputation rests on a series of large-canvas novels, in which he's proven to be the foremost diagnostician of our national psyche. In The Body Artist, however, he sacrifices breadth for depth, narrowing his focus to a single life, a single death. The protagonist is Lauren Hartke, who we see sharing breakfast with her husband, Rey, in the opening pages. This 18-page sequence is a tour de force (albeit a less showy one than the author's initial salvo in Underworld)--an intricate, funny notation of Lauren's consciousness as she pours cereal, peers out the window, and makes idle chat. Rey, alas, will proceed directly from the breakfast table to the home of his former wife, where he'll unceremoniously blow his brains out.
What follows is one of the strangest ghost stories since The Turn of the Screw. And like James's tale, it seems to partake of at least seven kinds of ambiguity, leaving the reader to sort out its riddles. Returning to their summer rental after Rey's funeral, Lauren discovers a strange stowaway living in a spare room: an inarticulate young man, perhaps retarded, who may have been there for weeks. His very presence is hard for her to pin down: "There was something elusive in his aspect, moment to moment, a thinning of physical address." Yet soon this mysterious figure begins to speak in Rey's voice, and her own, playing back entire conversations from the days preceding the suicide. Has Lauren's husband been reincarnated? Or is the man simply an eavesdropping idiot savant, reproducing sentences he'd heard earlier from his concealment?
DeLillo refuses any definitive answer. Instead he lets Lauren steep in her grief and growing puzzlement, and speculates in his own voice about this apparent intersection of past and present, life and death. At times his rhetoric gets away from him, an odd thing for such a superbly controlled writer. "How could such a surplus of vulnerability find itself alone in the world?" he asks, sounding as though he's discussing a sick puppy. And Lauren's performances--for she is the body artist of the title--sound pretty awful, the kind of thing Artaud might have cooked up for an aerobics class. Still, when DeLillo reins in the abstractions and bears down, the results are heartbreaking:
Why shouldn't the death of a person you love bring you into lurid ruin? You don't know how to love the ones you love until they disappear abruptly. Then you understand how thinly distanced from their suffering, how sparing of self you often were, only rarely unguarded of heart, working your networks of give-and-take.At this stage of his career, a thin book is an adventure for DeLillo. So is his willingness to risk sentimentality, to immerse us in personal rather than national traumas. For all its flaws, then, The Body Artist is a real, raw accomplishment, and a reminder that bigger, even for so capacious an imagination as DeLillo's, isn't always better. --James Marcus
From Publishers Weekly
After 11 novels, DeLillo (Underworld; White Noise) is an acknowledged American master, and a writer who rarely repeats his successes. This slim novella is puzzling, and may prove entirely mystifying to many readers; like all DeLillo's fiction, it offers a vision of contemporary life that expresses itself most clearly in how the story is told. Would you recognize what you had said weeks earlier, if it were the last thing, among other last things, you said to someone you loved and would never see again? That question, posed late in the narrative, helps explain the somewhat aimless and seemingly pointless opening scene, in which a couple gets up, has breakfast, and the man looks for his keys. Next we learn that heDfailed film director Rey Robles, 64Dis dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. SheDLauren, a "body artist"Dgoes on living alone in their house along a lonely coast, until she tracks a noise to an unused room on the third floor and to a tiny, misshapen man who repeats back conversations that she and Rey had weeks before. Is Mr. Tuttle, as Lauren calls him, real, possibly an inmate wandered off from a local institution? Or is he a figment of Lauren's grieving imagination? Is thisDas DeLillo playfully slips into Lauren's mind at one pointDthe first case of a human abducting an alien? One way of reading this story is as a novel told backwards, in a kind of time loop: DeLillo keeps hidden until his closing pages Lauren's role as a body artistDand with it, the novel's true narrative intent. DeLillo is always an offbeat and challenging novelist, and this little masterpiece of the storyteller's craft may not be everyone's masterpiece of the storytelling art. But like all DeLillo's strange and unforgettable works, this is one every reader will have to decide on individually. (Feb. 6)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
The book begins in a very Pinteresque manner, a couple delineating the items of their lives, this is hers, this is his, as they fix breakfast. The blurb calls this opening a tour de force of eighteen pages. I disagree. It's not Pinter and it gets tedious in the way that parts of Travels in Scriptorium by Auster get tedious. We want a stronger story. This comes when book shifts to Lauren after her husband's death.
The elements of Lauren's life become her performance art. If you know art, like I do, you will see vague references to many artists who used their bodies as art. DeLillo makes a couple mistakes, he forgets or doesn't know Orlan, one of the major body artists around today, and he says that Bob Flanagan drives "nails" through a part of his anatomy better off not mentioned here -- but it was only one nail. But DeLillo is a writer and so we let that go in passing. Lauren's work takes the elements we've witnessed so far; she internalizes and presents to her audience, as we learn as she is interviewed over lunch. Her memories are dead pictures, but they are living moments.
What makes the book absolutely amazing is the quality of the writing.Read more ›
The plot is anything but usual. After a young artist's husband commits suicide, she resumes her life only to one day discover a strange person sitting on a bed in an unused room, an otherworldly man-child who speaks in cryptic utterances that lack context and syntax. She assumes that he suffers from autism and plans to notify authorities; but changes her mind after hearing him repeat, word for word, a conversation she had with her husband on the day of his death. Wow.
Who is this quaint stranger -- unwilling time traveler? Is our protagonist no more than a desperate woman whose grief and isolation have made her delusional? At first I was somewhat frustrated by these questions, but found myself haunted by the layered meanings.
When it was not the prose that had me thinking, I was smitten with DeLillo's fascinatingly poetic writing style. He weaves such a riveting tapestry of words to delve into the emotional minutiae of his characters that he not only captivates our sympathetic attention he has us thinking like we were the ones he was talking about.
I highly recommend this effortlessly engrossing tale if you have a taste for offbeat but thought-provoking literature.
The title, "The Body Artist", has as much bearing on this short work as the characters inside it. There is a backround of artistry, one of ambiguous interpretation not unlike those "new age" plays shown in the city. The book is light and dense at the same time; some of the sentences will strike you as odd and uneeded with no depth, while other scenes will captivate you with an overwhelming feeling of depression--hopefully lasting throughout the length of the novel. While I was reading, the book almost called for a scholarly analysis of theme and characterization: like I said, if read right the feeling of despair and eccentricity will seep into you. Read it with an artistic viewpoint and you'll be nicely rewarded.
In The Body Artist the struggle is distilled within a single woman, who copes with the suicide of her husband as her mind leads her body, in solitude. There is a startling lack of overt sentimentality which would have spoiled the story. Rather the emptiness she must feel is conveyed through her gestures and stalk sceneries surrounding her solitary life in a large rented house. Underneath the apparent disaffectedness of the heroine, however, readers perceive her doubts, rage, and longing, which materialize halfway as a timeless man/child of no origin. We read the heroine's lonely and circular struggle to cope with what life has dealt her, through her relationship with the non-character, and in the end some kind of an expression of understanding(?) or an attempt to close an event, which none of us should have the presumption to judge. Mr. Delillo would object, but I finished the story with a moral: that we each of us perceive the external world through the fogginess of our inner uncertainties, and that to understand others is perhaps an ability to wipe the slate of your own understanding clean.
The charge of boredom by some reviewers is regretful. No, there's neither resolution nor triumph over the tragedy, but it's very rare that our lives offer any kind of resolution. As for the breakfast scene at the beginning, I think it tells us the intimacy and familiarity the man and the woman share at dawn, which makes the loss of the husband all the more personal to us. I also read into the dialogues an underlining tension which could be a foreboding of an end.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
This is not meant to be helpful; rather it's meant to express my distaste for this Delillo offering. The Body Artist is one of the most artsy, pretentious novels I've ever read.Published on July 16 2004 by C. Myers
Hey, I liked "White Noise" too. But give me a break. Completely implausible with precious little insight to Delillo's masterful skill with dialogue and his uncanny... Read morePublished on June 22 2004
I really loved the premise. I was fascinated about it. I think it would make a wonderful movie or play. It was a quick read and held my attention. Read morePublished on May 17 2004 by Bethanie Frank
The Body Artist is an interesting, engaging rumination. I do, however, have one piece of advice: be sure you are in the mood to read this book. Read morePublished on March 25 2004 by CoffeeGurl
I can honestly say this is one of the worst books I've ever read. It is poorly written, excruciatingly boring and proof-positive that a big name can get anything published. Read morePublished on Feb. 19 2004 by Joel Gee
I can't believe how many readers have been seduced by this goobledygook sophomoric word play. The success of any writer is his or her ability to tell a tale, seductively, clearly,... Read morePublished on Nov. 15 2003
I never got through a book as quickly as I got through this one. That's because I didn't actually read the whole thing. I read only the first chapter, which is an utter bore. Read morePublished on Nov. 4 2003 by Gone with the Schwind
Don Delillo follows up his largest and finest work - 'Underworld' - with perhaps his smallest and poorest work: 'The Body Artist'. Read morePublished on Sept. 19 2003 by J. Aaron Bellamy