Don Delillo follows up his largest and finest work - 'Underworld' - with perhaps his smallest and poorest work: 'The Body Artist'. While the dust-jacket calls this piece of fiction a novel, it is clearly a novella. At only 124 pages, and with only one focal character, there isn't enough intermingled complexity to make it a novel, and not enough 1-2-3 punch to make it a long short story. Delillo's tone is consistent with his other works: the characters all sound the same and seem to pine for some sort of normalcy. The quest at understanding the postmodern is dwindling away, along with the cold-war and garbage, as some of Delillo's obsessions. What we have here is a sort of super-existentialism.
Lauren Hartke is a body artist - she puts her body into strange shapes and under constant pressure - and she is haunted. Her obsession with her own body serves as a clue to her complete lack of comprehension of all those outside of her body. Her husband, her friends, her acquaintances - they are all strangers. 'The Body Artist' is about these ghosts: mostly regular people, but still intangible to Lauren. Delillo is still a master on his worst day, and moments of this book do shine. Only Delillo could conjure up so pure a ghost story without using a shred of the supernatural. Hartke's obsessions creep up just slowly enough to almost be unnoticeable to us. By the end, we readers are able to snap out of the scenario and realize its craziness. But for Lauren - trapped in her own world and body - this realization is not as plausible.
Dellilo's faults her are not with subject. His intent is as noble as ever. The words themselves just don't work as well. Perhaps after 'Underworld's' massiveness, he felt an urgency to 'crank something out' - and here it is: a little under-developed novella. Despite its flaws, it is still a necessary chapter in Don Dellilo's oeuvre.