Don DeLillo: Cosmopolis

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Don DeLillo: Cosmopolis

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Cosmopolis

Author: Don DeLillo
Publisher: Scribner

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No one makes words twitter and hum like Don DeLillo, whose sumptuous atmospheres and curved turns of phrase give his detached moods the feel of sharp poetic engagement. His gleaming language can also be distracting, though, as it is in Cosmopolis, which offers a welcome chance to read DeLillo's prose, but little to harvest from its barren outgrowth. A slim novel aimed at the haunting demise of the New Economy, Cosmopolis follows a stoic investment whiz on a daylong limo ride in cross-town Manhattan traffic. From the moment he wakes up in his 48-room apartment–a "mosque of soft footfall and rock doves murmurous in the vaulting"–Eric Packer fixes his day's desires on the simple act of getting a haircut. But the New York City machine halts his journey with a cartoonish flurry of activity: a presidential motorcade, an explosive anti-globalization protest, a funeral parade for a dead rapper, and so on. As his limo creeps along the streets, Packer grants backseat audiences to a cast of bodyguards, fellow executives, a proctologist, and past and current lovers, all of whom trade in DeLillo's familiar brand of cinched dialogue and curious uncertainty. At Cosmopolis' root is a distant meditation on what happens when a glittery New World replacement built around technological progress and bankable abstraction begins to decay. Constantly fretting over time-trampled words and concepts like "Automatic Teller Machine," Packer reels when his sure-shot economic rank shows signs of weakness as the currency market dips beyond design. He finds vitality in the jarring irregularity, speeding up his downward spiral by sabotaging his portfolio like a frontier man disrobing on a mountaintop. But from there, Packer's jones for self-destruction follows Cosmopolis' fateful trend toward scenarios that are not only improbable, but kind of stupid. Cryptic threats on his life bear out the book's clownish bad tendencies, and Packer's initially intriguing bewilderment falls flat as his actions become even less human than should be expected from a DeLillo character. Hidden in the mess are a few stunning passages and sharp elucidations, particularly on the erotic doubt born from a world changing too fast to register its own patterns. But too many of the good parts feel isolated in ways that show the story's slapped-together form. Cosmopolis shows off DeLillo's considerable strengths as a writer, but his standing as a novelist takes a notable hit in the process.