1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Living Still Life
The main character wants this and in a sense she strives for it. Let me explain. Lauren's husband, a relatively known film director dies. She struggles with her grief in a rented house where a man appears. He may be an escaped patient from a mental ward. Yet he seems to quote words that she or her dead husband said. This captivates her. She allows him to stay, at...
Published on June 20 2008 by Reader and Writer
3.0 out of 5 stars Show me the body
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...
Published on Sept. 19 2003 by Amazon Customer
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Living Still Life,
This review is from: The Body Artist (Paperback)
The main character wants this and in a sense she strives for it. Let me explain. Lauren's husband, a relatively known film director dies. She struggles with her grief in a rented house where a man appears. He may be an escaped patient from a mental ward. Yet he seems to quote words that she or her dead husband said. This captivates her. She allows him to stay, at first as a link to her deceased love, and then as a gateway to her past. She tape records him and asks, would we recognize ourself if what we said in the past was presented to us. This is what she sees the man as doing.
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. Once DeLillo gets into his stride we see him taking giant steps similar to what Beethoven did in the late string quartets. They are resonant, perceptive, absolutely beautiful in their small segments. It's called a novel but this is really more of a long short story or a novella, both in length, about 30K words and in its tone. DeLillo skips breadth but doesn't back off the verbal fireworks. There are small images, one line images that I just can't seem to shake off. This is train of thought combined with the deadly edge of a honed blade. How does one combine those two ideas, exactly the way DeLillo did it here. As I said, it's not a novel, don't read it for that and don't expect a soul searching catharsis. Read it like you are listening to chamber music and enjoy the moments.
5.0 out of 5 stars A HAUNTING NOVELLA ABOUT THE SHATTERING EFFECTS OF DEATH,
This is not an easy novel, and don't let its length (a mere 124 pages) let you think otherwise.
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.
4.0 out of 5 stars A good book for some,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Body Artist: A Novel (Hardcover)
This is a not a dramatic book. This is a book that you read on a rainy afternoon in one sitting and bathe in the mood. The sentences are short at times, choppy and fragmented--a complaint made by the current "spot light reviewer". This is done for reason, for mood, and for effect. To some it may feel like a published experimental garbage-dump only gotten into print because of DeLillo's fantastic reputation. However, to read this book well you have to look at it as a whole.
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.
4.0 out of 5 stars Who knows anything about anyone?,
Don Delillo writes about another America, where there are no great heroics, soaring of spirit, nor great moral battles. He tells of the defeated, confused, and estranged who live the one life they have as only they know how.
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. In any case I personally enjoyed the subtleties of the scene immensely.
This is a subtle and beautiful story with its own unique ambience that pulls you right in if you like the style. I'd even say that I, for one, prefer the more distilled form of this personal struggle to conspiracies and social satire of Mr. Delillo's previous works.
3.0 out of 5 stars Show me the body,
This review is from: The Body Artist: A Novel (Hardcover)
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars How much ambiguity can you accept?,
The Body Artist is one of the strangest--and most seductive--books I've read in a long time, a "ghost story" with a character who is described as if he were real, and whom the main character believes to be real, and who may, in fact, be real--but who may also be a figment of imagination. Events which are described as real may be fantasies, and even the relationships the main character has or has had with people who seem to be real may, in fact, be colored by wishful thinking. Ultimately, even the linear progression of the narrative itself is called into question since, DeLillo tells us, "Past, present, and future are not amenities of language."
The story begins with the intimately described minutiae of breakfast, as a couple, married just a short time, gets ready for the day. We learn that it takes two cycles on the toaster to get the bread the right color, that the cup is his and the paper is hers, that a blue jay comes to the bird feeder, that she puts soya on her cereal and that it smells like feet. When Rey Robles, the husband, dies later that day (something we know from the beginning), the world of the wife, Lauren Hartke, changes from one of communication and an outward focus to a world of grief and an inward focus. When she discovers a stranger living on the third floor of her rented house, we aren't sure whether he is real or whether he materializes to show Lauren's unresolved feelings about her loss and the depth of her trauma. The stranger, dubbed Mr. Tuttle, is handicapped, unable to understand or communicate in language in any traditional way.
Fascinating in its focus on internal action, the reader must ultimately just accept the story for what it is while enjoying the glories of the meticulous prose, the acutely felt portrait of a woman grieving, the suggested symbolism in birds and nature, and the author's depiction of the ambiguities and uncertainties of life and time. This is a work which uses language in new ways, ultimately even calling into question the use of language itself to make sense of the world. Like Lauren, DeLillo himself is a performance artist.
3.0 out of 5 stars Out of Body, Into Space and Time,
The Body Artist, by Don DeLillo, is an elusive meandering through the struggles of grief and acceptance. This being my first DeLillo novel, I wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised, and equally baffled. The story itself really only includes one charachter, and the inner workings of her mind as she descends into something that can only be described as overanylytical self destruction. She is Lauren Hartke, a performance artist who twists her body and voice in strange and painful contortions to expose truths about the world and herself. After the suicide of her husband, she secludes herself in their home and goes over tiny moments obsessively, searching for closure and meaning. She runs across a strange, transparent sort of charachter, who may or may not really exist outside herself. He speaks in her voice and the voice of her dead husband, seeming to transcend time and space and defy all set perimeters of logic and reason. This is an addictive collection of words, like a long muddled poem you can't stop reading. It leaves you with more questions than answers, and a sneaking sense of the truth that lies beyond our own perceptions.
4.0 out of 5 stars To review or not to review or perhaps,
The book is simultaneously a masterpiece and unfulfilling. DeLillo is a master in his use of language - the sentence can be jarring, incomplete, ambiguous, meandering as the plot line requires. An example: "She moved past the landing and turned into the hall, feeling whatever she felt, exposed, open, something you could call unlayered mayer, it that means anything, and she was aware of the world in every step." While I frequent enjoy movels specifically because of their use of language, I found DeLillo's writing jarring - there were sentences I had to reread in order to get the sense of them. I prefer to reread a sentence for the sensual pleasure of the words.
Similarly, I was both impressed and uneasy about his building of character. He does a splendid job of rooting the body artist in the physical, with an awareness of the physical that had, for me, an almost Zen-like quantity. This was used to advantage as her experiences after her husband's suicide lead to fluid boundaries of time, space, personhood, reality ... However, in the first chapter which sets up the story I found the discrepancy between her semi-awareness of thought and her physical rootedness created a character out of focus.
Nonetheless, while I've not been made a fan of DeLillo, anyone interested in the use of language in contemporary novels should read something by him - and this volume is an excellent choice.
3.0 out of 5 stars Not DeLillo's best, but certainly worth reading,
As I exited The Body Artist, I was left ambivalent rather than exalted.
First of all, I should mention that DeLillo uses a much more intimate style of writing than his readers may be used to; he manages to be laconic and rambling at the same time. The result can be dazzling: the author presents the protagonist, Laura, with such devout scrutiny that, at times, she almost becomes a palpable presence. His spectacularly precise observations on married life and mourning are also brilliant.
The plot, tenuous as it is, allows DeLillo to explore the themes of loss and the passage of time. He has managed to condense huge volumes of information into succinct sentences, such that the reader is sometimes made to read a sentence more than once. Some sentences appear to have been designed to change meaning with each rereading. This magnifies the power of DeLillo's insights on tragedy, it's effect on the victim and the slow sense of time that is engendered. So, although the novella is concise, it's effect on the reader is nonetheless equal to his longer novels.
Some readers have complained that The Body Artist is pointlessly flatulent. Occasionally, this is true. The Body Artist can be self-consciously poetic in execution. Unfortunately, also present is a sense of estrangement from Laura. In parts, The Body Artist verges on cold, unsympathetic semi-voyeurism. While one can never doubt the beauty of DeLillo's writing, the reader is rarely given the opportunity to truly empathise with Laura. It would also be accurate to say that, once in a while, DeLillo flaunts his articulacy in the same, slightly irritating way that he did in his earlier novels. These flaws hinder The Body Artist from matching his best works.
In spite of these shortcomings, the Body Artist can be profound, poignant and beautiful. It is a stirring sign of DeLillo reshaping his technique, his wholeness as a writer. Although it is not DeLillo's best work, it is a imperfect masterpiece that deserves your attention.
4.0 out of 5 stars Strangeness of grief,
The Body Artist is the strangest--most haunted--most terse portrayal of grief I've ever read. Both its beauty and its strangeness bloom from the melding of an inexact and painstakingly precise language. A language that is both lush--with a deep desire to come to terms with its own sweet grief--and stripped bare--all the way down to the white bone of honesty, to the complete despair of having lost the unnamable which feeds the spiritual and physical urges within us. DeLillo revels in memory here--clings to it-- as well as the ability to convey more through imprecision of language ("What's it called. She'd pressed down the lever to get his bread to go brown.") than through linguistic clarity. I gorged on DeLillo's stark novel(la) all night until there was nothing left of it to eat. The actual narrative is imbedded so deeply in the spareness of the language, the cutting short of the sentence, the acknowledged but forgotten sentence, that it was a second read before I cared whose grief I felt (and then, only vaguely), or what caused it. Even then, I found myself more invested in the metallic taste of the spoon carrying the load of fig traveling the distance from the page to my dry mouth. The Body Artist is weirdly both internal and external; what feels like an intimate place of entry into one woman's tumultuous and complex emotional terrain becomes a place of entry into the grief of its own readers, forcing us to examine (or simply enter into) the landscape of our longing and sadness through the doorway of our day-to-day, mechanical lives.
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The Body Artist by De Lillo (Hardcover - Feb. 23 2001)
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