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The Body Artist by Don Delillo



Suicide, or more to the point - the awful aftermath of suicide; the grief of the loved ones (in this case, the widow) left behind - would be a pretty tough sell for most works of fiction. Too depressing. Too damn real. But not in Don DeLillo's sage-like hands. He sells the devastation wrought by suicide beautifully and tenderly in The Body Artist: an existential study of time and our relationship to time as we travel through it, conveyed along for us in the imaginings (i.e., is the little miming man discovered in the third floor bedroom real or unreal?) of Lauren Hartke, and in her introspections; that is, in her deep loss and deeper longings, and ultimately in the transformative power of her body art sculpted from the raw pain and suffering she endures as a recent, bewildered widow.

I don't know how DeLillo does it. I feel ill-equipped describing his precise way with words. I've revised this section of the review at least ten times, knowing I'm not getting it right. I almost give up. And it's the cadence of Delillo's language too, not just the words, imbuing the words with deeper meaning. David Foster Wallace once wrote that Delillo's writing "just clicks". Expanding on that premise then, Delillo's like a metronome, hypnotic almost (but definitely not predictable despite the constant "clicking" and rhythm), and in The Body Artist, he's tapped into, and kept exquisite time with, the metaphysical. The Body Artist becomes therefore, as much a work of philosophy as it is a work of fiction.

What Delillo does with language evokes in me the same response I get when listening to a powerful piece of classical music: Goosebumps gallore, awe, wonder, inspiration and veneration. There's something sublime going on here in his writing that I can't quite name. So I'll just call it Art.

Yes, that's what I'm driving at: in The Body Artist, Delillo has managed to translate the secret languages of the Mysterious or Metaphysical; using the internal monologues and musings of Lauren Hartke as his mouthpiece, and making his philosophical abstractions as palpable as the pages his heady language is printed on.

That Delillo's prose is unplugged in The Body Artist, acoustic, if you will, set on a simple Starbuck's stage - a one act play with few characters - proves that he can stir the soul even when his aims aren't as huge-venued or symphonic as they were in his previous, vast novel, Underworld.

I'd say I enjoyed The Body Artist even more than Underworld, and even more, too, than his award winning, postmodern masterpiece, White Noise.

What is a 'body artist'? To reveal that here might destroy the subtle surprise, and it's a tiny book to begin with, a novella really, full of surprises. Before I read the book I lamely believed 'body artist' meant something regarding...tattoos. What-ever! In fact, I even tagged the book, when I first input it, with: 'tattoos,' since I've got me a tattoo or two and obviously like tattoos. I've since deleted that tag - 'tattoos' - from The Body Artist. I sure hope nobody noticed. Because body art and The Body Artist are definitely not necessarily synonymous.

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