BOOK REVIEW | Zero K by Don DeLillo

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Jeffrey Lockhart’s father, Ross, is a billionaire in his sixties, with a younger wife, Artis Martineau, whose health is failing. Ross is the primary investor in a remote and secret compound where death is exquisitely controlled and bodies are preserved until a future time when biomedical advances and new technologies can return them to a life of transcendent promise. Jeff joins Ross and Artis at the compound to say “an uncertain farewell” to her as she surrenders her body.

“We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn’t it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?”

These are the questions that haunt the novel and its memorable characters, and it is Ross Lockhart, most particularly, who feels a deep need to enter another dimension and awake to a new world. For his son, this is indefensible. Jeff, the book’s narrator, is committed to living, to experiencing “the mingled astonishments of our time, here, on earth.”

Don DeLillo’s seductive, spectacularly observed and brilliant new novel weighs the darkness of the world—terrorism, floods, fires, famine, plague—against the beauty and humanity of everyday life; love, awe, “the intimate touch of earth and sun.”

My thoughts:
After reading White Noise I knew I had to read more DeLillo as soon as possible. Zero K delivered with its profound philosophy on our inevitable mortality.

Isn’t death a blessing? Doesn’t it define the value of our lives, minute to minute, year to year?

In Zero K, death is avoidable. Through technological advances, human bodies can be cryogenically preserved post-mortem for an infinite amount of time, to one day be reborn into a new and better life. Jeffrey Lockhart is upset when he learns that his father, Ross, is looking to undergo the process voluntarily, rather than after his natural death. Ross, however, would like to go with Artis, his younger second wife who is terminally ill and beginning the preservation process. This inevitably brings heavy questions to the table, which DeLillo works through assertively.

DeLillo returns to a theme that resonated with me from White Noise: the significance that death has on living life purposefully. I’ve heard criticism that DeLillo brings nothing new to the table with this book, that he is re-hashing old ideas. For me, death is a constant that all living beings must face, so it makes sense to continue to explore what gives value to life.

We are born without choosing to be. Should we die in the same manner?

 

BOOK REVIEW | You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman

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3/5 stars

From the publisher:
A woman known only by the letter A lives in an unnamed American city with her roommate, B, and boyfriend, C, who wants her to join him on a reality show called That’s My Partner! A eats (or doesn’t) the right things, watches endless amounts of television, often just for the commercials—particularly the recurring cartoon escapades of Kandy Kat, the mascot for an entirely chemical dessert—and models herself on a standard of beauty that only exists in such advertising. She fixates on the fifteen minutes of fame a news-celebrity named Michael has earned after buying up his local Wally Supermarket’s entire, and increasingly ample, supply of veal.

Meanwhile B is attempting to make herself a twin of A, who hungers for something to give meaning to her life, something aside from C’s pornography addiction, and becomes indoctrinated by a new religion spread throughout a web of corporate franchises, which moves her closer to the decoys that populate her television world, but no closer to her true nature.

My thoughts:
What occurred to me then…was that living wasn’t a matter of right or wrong or ethics or self-expression. There was no better way to live, or worse. It was all terrible, and you had to do it constantly.

Bleak? Maybe. Relatable? Definitely.

Alexandra Keleeman’s satire is a bold statement on modern life. She tackles consumerism, conformity, and the importance of the individual in an over-marketed world.

The premise is tricky to describe, but here’s my best shot. Our central character, A, has a roommate named B and a boyfriend named C. A eats popsicles and oranges, and is infatuated with Kandy Kakes – an artificial treat that she lusts after while obsessively watching their colourful commercials. A notices strange behaviour from her neighbours, that B is starting to assume physical similarities to herself, and C suddenly disappears. What follows is an examination of the self, or lack of self, in an overly consumptive society.

I enjoyed taking a peek into Keleeman’s world as this book is full of provocative and insightful moments. I’m the same age as the author, and can relate to her take on the obsessions endured by women today. This is a a bizarre, dystopian satire and will not appeal to everyone’s tastes. If you’re a fan of postmodern literature, this is definitely one to read.

BOOK REVIEW | The First Bad Man by Miranda July

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Here is Cheryl, a tightly-wound, vulnerable woman who lives alone, with a perpetual lump in her throat. She is haunted by a baby boy she met when she was six, who sometimes recurs as other people’s babies. Cheryl is also obsessed with Phillip, a philandering board member at the women’s self-defense nonprofit where she works. She believes they’ve been making love for many lifetimes, though they have yet to consummate in this one.

When Cheryl’s bosses ask if their twenty-one-year-old daughter, Clee, can move into her house for a little while, Cheryl’s eccentrically ordered world explodes. And yet it is Clee—the selfish, cruel blond bombshell—who bullies Cheryl into reality and, unexpectedly, provides her the love of a lifetime.

My thoughts:
If you were wise enough to know that this life would consist mostly of letting go of things you wanted, then why not get good at the letting go, rather than the trying to have?

Miranda July, you had me from hello.

In her intricately plotted debut, July takes the reader on a twisty ride that cumulates in a place we never see coming. She examines uncomfortable realities and taboo topics with a smoothness that will at times have you both cringing and laughing out loud. Suddenly, before you realize it’s happening, you’ll be rooting for love in the most unexpected of places.

Cheryl’s life is outwardly simple, but internally complicated. As a single woman in her 40’s, she’s developed quirky habits and lives life by routine. She craves after a man named Phillip, and has her uncomfortably comfortable life interrupted when she agrees to house her boss’ 20 year old daughter, Clee. After a startling admission from Phillip, you will wonder where this is all heading. Rest assured, July will guide you through the rocky terrain.

The First Bad Man is a book that will resonate most with internal types. Over-analyzers, this one’s for you. I’ve often heard this book described as “bizarre”, but it felt like business as usual for me – I can completely imagine a life in which I only have 1 plate and cup and set of cutlery for simplicity, but I have a family which helps to stave off strange habits from habituating. July also delivers some truly touching moments – love and tenderness that round the story out perfectly. Lauren Groff put it best on her cover blurb: this book is “painfully alive”.

BOOK REVIEW | White Noise by Don DeLillo

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Jack Gladney teaches Hitler Studies at a liberal arts college in Middle America where his colleagues include New York expatriates who want to immerse themselves in “American magic and dread.” Jack and his fourth wife, Babette, bound by their love, fear of death, and four ultramodern offspring, navigate the usual rocky passage of family life to the background babble of brand-name consumerism.

Then a lethal black chemical cloud floats over their lives, an “airborne toxic event” unleashed by an industrial accident. The menacing cloud is a more urgent and visible version of the “white noise” engulfing the Gladney family—radio transmissions, sirens, microwaves, ultrasonic appliances, and TV murmurings—pulsing with life, yet suggesting something ominous.

My thoughts:
I can’t recall the last time that I was deeply affected by a book; shaken to the core, forced to analyze my beliefs, and profoundly changed on the other end of reading it. I just put White Noise down, and am wondering how I’ll be able to read anything else going forward. I haven’t had time to process all of my thoughts coherently, and am not sure I ever will, but I know that I didn’t want this book to end. There are so many layers to this book that I could talk about, but it’s most overt commentary – an incapacitating fear of death – hit me at the right time.

Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead.

There is nothing dated about this work from 1985; the underlying themes feel relevant in our modern world, overrun by technology. This story is told from the perspective of Jack Gladney, patriarch to a blended family and teacher of Hitler Studies, but is very much about all of the members of his family. His kids are unique and represent many viewpoints, and his wife, Babette, provides powerful insight into the feeling of nothingness experienced by so many. These characters busy themselves with the white noise of life and are so consumed with the fear of death, that they ultimately fail to live meaningfully while they have the chance.

How strange it is. We have these deep terrible lingering fears about ourselves and the people we love. Yet we walk around, talk to people, eat and drink. We manage to function. The feelings are deep and real. Shouldn’t they paralyze us? How is it we can survive them, at least for a little while?

Yes, this book is nihilistic. It’s over the top and fantastical, yet somehow completely realistic. While I don’t fear death in such an extreme way as these characters, I do fear it for my loved ones. I can barely handle the thought that my kids are mortal beings, and at times it overwhelms me. Yet, I manage to function, because that’s what people do.

Isn’t death the boundary we need? Doesn’t it give precious texture to life, a sense of definition? You have to ask yourself whether anything you do in this life would have beauty and meaning without the knowledge you carry a final line, a border or limit.