Delillo is fairly new to me, so I don't to pretend to have any major insights into how this book compares with his other more lauded works. From reading a little about Delillo, I understand Great Jones Street is one of his earlier and more experimental novels. It shows. It has an interesting, if a little dated and clichéd, premise, concerning the retreat of a 70s rock star into existential seclusion. The obvious Dylan references are clumsy (Buddy Wunderlick, the book's protagonist, records a post-fame, lo-fi collection of songs called the Mountain Tapes, a clear reference to Dylan's The Basement Tapes) and the book certainly doesn't work as satire (it is deeply unfunny and earnest). However, Delillo does create an eerie and unnerving mood which can be very effective and while his prose is often pretentious and self consciously `experimental', he does sometimes hit a rich vein of apocalyptic gloom, particularly when describing the New York streets (a bit like Dylan's Desolation Row in fact). Overall I was left with the impression of a writer trying hard to be experimental at the expanse of a more fluid and identifiable style. Nevertheless, it's an unusual and often original piece of work that should be read by fans of Delillo as well as those readers interested in off-beat American literature from the 70s.
Bucky Wunderlick is the lead singer and song writer of a successful hard rock band. On tour, the burned-out Bucky realizes the band has reached the scary limit of its loud and raw sound and he suddenly drops out. Bucky then becomes the subject of bizarre rumors and bogus sightings while he lives on Great Jones Street, which, before the boom in New York City real estate, was grim and seedy. This Bucky, who is wasted and drifting, has "no intentions." But then Opel, his girlfriend, appears and forces him to address these questions: What do you do when something ends? How will you evolve?
As a musician, Bucky finally decides he "needed a route back". But will his route back resemble that of his band mate Azarian, who evolves and affirms his own musicality in soul music? Or will Bucky's route back follow the vision of Globke, his agent, who has brilliant ideas about promoting Bucky's celebrity and is indifferent to his music. Or will Bucky follow the path of the musician Watney, who realized his own mediocrity and evolved through business? Or, will Bucky find a musical equivalent of Fenig, his upstairs neighbor, who is a writer seeking success through the exploitation of market niches?
In offering these alternatives to Bucky, DeLillo also begins in a very dark space. In particular, all these options for Bucky's personal evolution are opposed by the sinister Happy Valley Farm Commune. This sees Bucky's musical withdrawal as a principled stand for independence and privacy. Happy Valley, by the way, apparently has two factions, one of them nihilistic and violent as it enforces its beliefs.
As Bucky is exposed to these musical possibilities, he also becomes a passive participant in a dangerous drug deal. In this case, Opel, Azarian, and Watney each seek to acquire a "package" that Bucky keeps in his living room and that contains the ultimate recreational drug. The drug, which is the property of the Happy Valley Farm Commune, is also a matter of interest to the drug legend Dr. Pepper, who makes several wildly entertaining appearances in GJS. My favorite occurs in Chapter 18, where Dr. Pepper explains that he wants the package since he, like everyone else in GREAT JONES STREET, is trying to evolve. In this case, Dr. Pepper wants to make the package his platform for a final creative and professional breakthrough.
GJS is my eleventh DeLillo novel. IMO, GJS is a superb effort that showcases the great Don's glittering and terse prose, hilarious and insightful associations, and his unmistakable and inimitable voice. But unlike many of DeLillo's later novels, GJS has a protagonist who, while on the fringe, has not fully dropped out. This is quite different from Falling Man,Point Omega, and The Body Artist, where much of the tension exists in a protagonist's familiar marginality and creepy normalcy. Don, BTW, solves the issue of the ultimately eloquent Bucky's marginality in a surprising and perfect last chapter.
This is an excellent and highly entertaining novel and is highly recommended.
I don't know how he gets away with it but our man thrashed out another belter here, a precursor to the even better The Words, and it's all down to his blistering prose, not the wafer-thin ideas that lie behind it. If you're looking for characters in DDL forget it - all you get is DDL himself delivering street-smart NY philosophy from the hip and letting the English language take him over rather than him staying in control of it, an artistic position given an airing in this superb book, along with much else. Someone high in the hierarchy of US professional critics claimed, many years ago, that the author evinced an understanding of rock'n'roll in GJS, which shows you what a bunch of knobs they are because DDL probably wouldn't know rock'n'roll from a rearward intimate bodily orifice judging by this work. What he does know is language, a vital skill if you grow up in a tough NY Italian neighbourhood without being tough yourself. Depriving protagonist Bucky of language is perhaps the worst fate imaginable, even though the author relents on this, and it's no coincidence that one the hero's neighbours is a writer, albeit one that follows a "literary" track which political correctness forbids mentioning on a family website. DDL struggles too - as do all Yanks - with British accents, one character sounding like a cross between Lord Fauntleroy and Alf Garnett. But this is carping - GJS is delightful tosh of the first order and even features a hippy commune populated by psychotics and murderers, as all the best ones should be. Enjoy.
I'll keep this short. This is not a good book. What is the opposite of taught, crafted prose? How about flabby, lazy, verbal diarrhoea? I am prepared to concede DDL had to learn his trade but would rather not have to share the pain. He did much better later - treat this book with the contempt it deserves. Shun it as you would a rabid dog.
easily the worst delillo novel i've read. a total waste of time. i would recommend avoiding this novel until you've read everything else this great (but inconsistent) writer has produced. there's a consensus that 'white noise', 'libra' and 'underworld' are great novels and these are a good place to start. after these, i would recommend 'the names', 'end zone', 'running man', and 'americana' as very good novels. please, do not read 'great jones street' as an introduction to delillo. save it til last. if you have to read it at all.