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4.0 out of 5 stars Spellbound, 19 July 2014
J. Ang - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories (Kindle Edition)
Delillo is more well-known for longer works of fiction. His novels are concerned with American life, like “White Noise” and “Falling Man” which addressed the paranoia of modern living as we know it, with its excesses in consumerism and social/political instability, and the threat of terrorism. It culminated in his magnum opus, “Underworld”, which I unfortunately did not finish – it was just too massive and complex a work, though that does not detract from his genius. In between, he has also published shorter works like “Cosmopolis” and “The Body Artist”, which had a more personal feel about them because he cast his lens on a smaller sphere, which had varying results. In his prolific body of work, Delillo maintains his signature taut and terse writing style, which gives an air of emotional detachment, which is yet surprisingly incisive. One would think that the short story form would serve Delillo well, so it is surprising that Delillo does not write more short stories. This is his only collection to date, and it brings together nine pieces published between 1979 to 2011, and yet the span of time between the stories does not give this collection a patchy feel.

That said, the stories are varied in content and concerns. The first one, “Creation” finds a couple trapped at the end of their holiday on an island in the West Indies, and the building tension is set against the calm and peaceful environs of the hotel they keep going back to when yet another flight is cancelled. The turn in the story with the entry of a third character is remarkably insidious and shocking. And yet the reader is correspondingly lulled and then alarmed, which increases the sense of unease. This is especially effective in “Baader-Meinhof”, where a woman finds herself inexplicably thrown into an acquaintance with a fellow visitor at an art gallery, and the new friendship soon spirals out of control.

The characters in these stories are also varied and checkered. But whether they are travellers, university students, nuns or even astronauts, Delillo zeroes in on their disparate personalities in a succinct and illuminating way. In all these stories, people try to connect, whether it is Sister Edgar who tries to reach out to the illusive street urchin Esmeralda in the titular story, or the man who fills his days at the cinemas across town watching movie after movie in “The Starveling”, or the two college friends who imagine a backstory about a hooded stranger they see in the university town in “Midnight in Doestovksy”, and hold on to it with a tenacity that overrides the truth. These characters may fail in their attempts to connect, and the motivations behind their actions less than logical or benevolent, but in each, Delillo writes with such empathy and clarity, that the reader is not only convinced, but spellbound.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars stories about our grip on the world, 27 Nov 2011
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These nine stories, written over several decades, have a surprising thematic unity. Most concern our grip on the world, which is called in question generally by an event, such an earthquake, a child-snatching, the rape and murder of 12 year old followed by sightings of her as an angel. The writing is precise; and brings to life just how our grip on the world can be loosened and what it is like. Some of the stories also involve the central characters imagining the lives of others (from very little external evidence) - and in a way that too calls in question our relatedness to the world outside our own imaginings. Most of the stories are quite inconclusive - but serve their own purpose well.
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