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DeLillo's Man In The Desert, Up Against The Wall

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DeLillo's Man In The Desert, Up Against The Wall

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DeLillo's Man In The Desert, Up Against The Wall

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The novelist Don DeLillo writes of a man who is growing uncomfortable. Everything he sees reminds him of swiftly passing time.

Mr. DON DELILLO (Author, Point Omega): A taxi meter, an appointment, a cell phone - all of that is a measurement of time that tends to make him anxious.

INSKEEP: That man is a central character in the latest work by a leading American writer. In past novels, Don DeLillo re-imagined John F. Kennedys assassination, the Cold War, even 9/11. His new novel, called Point Omega, also seems to dwell on public events, though it centers on that one anxious man. Richard Elster flees alone to a house in the middle of the California desert. He flees because he feels the ticking of mortality.

Mr. DELILLO: Out in the desert, what he feels is so vast that it doesnt necessarily affect him personally.

INSKEEP: Well, you present us with this gray-haired, sort of pony-tailed university intellectual, thinking really big thoughts in a really big place, and yet hes also remembering - or recovering from a really specific, recent news event.

Mr. DELILLO: Youre referring to the war.

INSKEEP: This is a man you describe as having been an intellectual who was brought into an administration to help plan what appears to be the Iraq War.

Mr. DELILLO: He was - yes, he was part of a series of closed meetings in conference rooms, and what he was intended to contribute was a kind of overarching view - not of specific troop movements, but to give them a deeper idea of how to wage this particular kind of war. And it gives him something to be in retreat from - that is, his experience during those two years or so that he spent as a defense intellectual. And his retreat occurs in this desert terrain.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm. And you create a filmmaker who comes to see him, wants to get him to make a film which - well, at one point, the main character, Elster, describes it as a confession. He basically says: You want a confession from me.

Mr. DELILLO: This is what Jim Finley probably intends. He wants a man against a wall. He wants a man standing and talking. He wants a face on the screen, and if Elster decides to veer in his monologue, from Iraq to any other subject, young Jim Finley is happy to film it. He believes that on film, the face is the soul. He calls it a primal film, and this is what he hopes Elster will agree to do.

INSKEEP: What do you think draws you, as a writer whos concerned with really large themes of time and life and death, to focus on people who have some connection to public news events?

Mr. DELILLO: I think for decades now, weve been flooded by media stimulation of one kind or another, and once it becomes part of everybodys life, I think it becomes part of a fiction writer's conceivable subject - at least, at some level. And it just seemed to me to be an important element in our lives. And I guess in one sense, my work all these years has been about living in dangerous times, and part of this danger has been what the media reports and how it changes our perceptions.

INSKEEP: Im thinking of a novel of yours that must be more than a quarter-century old now, White Noise. I still remember a passage from that book, which I relate to now as a parent, in that theres a father and a son. Theyre driving in a car. Its dumping down rain. The son said - youre smiling; Im glad you remember it, too - the son says, the radio says its going to rain tonight. The father says, its raining now. The son says, the radio said tonight. You made this conflict between reality and virtual reality.

Mr. DELILLO: And the conflict is, I think, ever present. Its something that we breathe in through our pores. Its just part of our perception.

INSKEEP: Do you feel you have some of the same obsessions as you did many years ago, when you were writing your early work?

Mr. DELILLO: I think I have the same obsessions. Im not sure I could state them clearly. I think they involve danger and to some extent, violence - and people moving towards some sort of inevitability, perhaps.

INSKEEP: Some sort of inevitability - meaning death, I suppose.

Mr. DELILLO: Thats at the end of everything, yes. And I think thats ultimately what shapes my work - and in a sense, maybe what shapes most art.

INSKEEP: Because youve written so much about death, or people who seem in some way to be anxious about or fearing death, I wonder how your own thoughts on that subject have evolved as you, yourself, have grown older?

Mr. DELILLO: Im still 22 in my mind. When Im walking along a street, Im not a novelist of a certain age. Im just the same guy I always was. Thats how I feel. I dont feel different. Im not aware that I think different. But I dont think about these matters in a very conscious way.

INSKEEP: You dont think about them in a conscious way, and yet they keep coming out on the page.

Mr. DELILLO: Well, there it is. Thats what writers do, I suppose. We do express ourselves, but we dont necessarily do it in the first person. We dont necessarily do it as autobiography. It simply flows out of us and into characters.

INSKEEP: When I think about the work that youve done over the last many years, some of your characters have families, some do not, some are deeply engaged in the world. In this case, you have a man who has withdrawn to the desert and gotten as disengaged from the world as he could. And yet, it seems to me that no matter what their circumstance, a great many of your main characters are basically lonely, if not alienated from the world.

Mr. DELILLO: I think this is probably true and some of them, in earlier novels, tend to be men in small rooms. And in Elsters case, its a man in a vast desert, but essentially the same kind of situation.

INSKEEP: What draws you to that alienation?

Mr. DELILLO: Theres no simple answer to that question. It certainly isnt an autobiographical aspect of my fiction. But theres something about a single individual, isolated from the world, that appeals to me as a writer: everything funneled into one man in one room. You know, its not something I try to explain to myself. Its just a feeling, and its something Im driven toward.

INSKEEP: Don DeLillos new novel is called Point Omega. Thanks very much.

Mr. DELILLO: Youre welcome.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Read a passage from Point Omega at npr.org.

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

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