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Point Omega: A Novel

1 rating: 1.0
A book by Don DeLillo

Richard Elster, an intellectual turned defense department advisor, goes into the desert to escape the machinations of the American military-industrial complex. There he is visited by a conceptual filmmaker and, later, his grown daughter. From their remote … see full wiki

Author: Don DeLillo
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date Published: February 02, 2010
1 review about Point Omega: A Novel

Short, quick, somewhat satisfying

  • Mar 14, 2010
Rating:
+1
Pros: Short easy to read but still at least somewhat "literary"

Cons: Too simplistic in places not enough character development

The Bottom Line: It's not a good starter for the Delillo-curious. For the Delillo-familiar, don't rush to read or rush to trash.

Until Point Omega, I thought Don Delillo was producing novels that were not only bad, but so inconsistent with his earlier work that I believed he was essentially unwriting his career. Briefly, Underworld (1997) is considered one of the masterworks of the last twenty-five years. In 2001 with The Body Artist, his style changed so markedly I was almost convinced that he didn’t write it. Then he released Cosmopolis (2003) and (2007). Each of the post Underworld novels were so different from each other that I was totally convinced he lost his voice and was casting around wildly trying to find it again.

Point Omega is slightly better than mediocre, but the style is more consistent than any other novel since Underworld. In short, it is not a wholesale disappointment.

The principle story is bookended by a separate narrative, each entitled “Anonymous. They tell of an eccentric man spending all day, every day, in the Museum of Modern Art watching an installation piece. The piece shows the movie Psycho slowed to where it will run a full 24 hours. He watches visitors come and go while he stands in the darkest corner mentally concocting all manner of interpretation, though nearly all of these interpretations involving how a change in perspective can cause “meaning” to become meaningless.

The main plot is narrated by an experimental filmmaker, Jimmy. His current project is to film a scholar, Richard Elster, who had worked for the Department of Defense, offering a sort of historical perspective to help bolster (and perhaps justify) the war in Iraq, “rendition,” and the aftermath of each.

Jimmy’s project is essentially to set up a static camera and film Elster talking—no script, no questions, just the man’s head against a bland, neutral background. Jimmy flies west from NYC to the desert southwest to spend what he thinks will be at most a couple of days. Instead this turns into weeks. After a couple of weeks, Elster’s daughter Jessie arrives. Her mother sent her to her father using the clichéd notion that distance would kill what the mother saw as a potentially dangerous relationship. Jessie disappears after only a few days. After the disappearance, Jimmy abandons his vague film idea and focuses his attentions on helping find the daughter while trying to keep the father grounded.

I offer a warning here, but not of the plot variety. Delillo’s novels are what a friend calls “thinking books” so they invite, require really, a wide array of interpretation; what I offer here is an interpretation warning. If you would rather not bother with this section but just want the recommendation information then skip to the last paragraph.

The insecurity of meaning, anonymity, and irony dominate this small work. The first two elements are standard “good” Delillo. Irony, at least to the extent he uses it in Point Omega, is new and unfortunately amateurish.

Meaning becomes meaningless throughout the novel. The truly abstract meaning we apply to film is entirely stripped away by slowing Psycho to about 5% of its standard length and removing the sound. The main plot divorces meaning from substance in a strange (but I suppose valid) explanation of the title. The Omega Point is a philosophic notion Pierre Teilhard de Chardin created to explain a universe moving toward an almost Godlike “complexity and consciousness.” He says that humans are moving toward the same supreme complexity and consciousness—a souped up version of Maslow’s concept of self-actualization. Instead of a sort of a perfect sentience, Elster is striving towards the level of perfect “consciousness” of a rock.

Delillo uses the traditional and post-modern versions of anonymity: isolation from a crushing mass and isolation from the self. In the bookended chapters everyone is referred to by a descriptor (guard, tourist, old man and so on), except for Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. This obviously heightens the human disconnect since Perkins and Leigh are playing roles and are only two-dimensional. This sense of separation is subtler in the main body and in line with Delillo’s stronger works.

He uses extremes like the desolation of a desert or a teeming population to press the self-isolation. Jessica, about whom we learn little, disappears in the desert and we are led to believe that she is abducted by a nameless beau. In Point Omega, Jessie and Jimmy remove themselves from their homes where they are defined partly by the people and space around them. Rather than being a vacation-type break to recharge, they become rootless.

The irony is at the level I would use to teach relatively advanced 10th graders. It is impossible not to interpret the two anonymous chapters with the main body. Since meaning is stripped away from the film, the man can apply any amount of possible meaning to it—and he does. This is an artless version of “in the absence of meaning, anything can mean anything.” Aligned against this is an attempt to force meaninglessness by believing, if nothing else, that responsibility for meaning is entirely removed when the ultimate state of meaning becomes so tangible as to disappear entirely.

There is far more of each of these story elements in the novel, but if I go too deep, I will give away the remainder of the plot (and, glibly, give more than just an abstract for a student needing a topic for a term paper).

Interpretation portion complete.

While the audio version is good, the story is too exoteric for listening alone. If you are not familiar with Mr. Delillo’s style, then the sudden shift from frame narrative (the man in the museum) to the main plot will be jarring and potentially too confusing to bother continuing, even at just three hours. If the story is compelling then I recommend at least scanning through the novel if for no other reason than finding your way to decouple the main narrative from the framing one.

Point Omega is not a good starter for the Delillo-curious (for that Mao II is perhaps the best start based on quality and relative brevity), but I can see it being an acceptable next novel. For the Delillo-familiar, don’t put it high on your list of need-to-read, but no need to trash it either.

Recommended:
Yes

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