Words in Boxes

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Thoughts on Mao II

I've been on a reading binge this month, and I've just finished Mao II by Don DeLillo. I've read a lot of DeLillo, which is strange because for me at least, his plots are metaphor-heavy and don't turn the pages themselves. But there is something about his prose – precise, abrupt yet rhythmic – that compels me to read it studiously with the hope it will better my own writing.

Here's some. There are a few things I like. The quick cuts between monologues and small talk and physical actions. The parallelism between the two monologues, and how they sound complex and natural at the same time. How the point of views switch gracefully and without confusion. The density of good words versus filler words:

Scott said, "I used to eat alone. It made me ashamed, having no one to eat with. But not only alone-standing up This is one of the haunting secrets of our time, that we are willing to eat standing up. I used to stand because it's more anonymous, it suited the way I felt about being in the city. Hundreds of thousands of people eating alone. They eat alone`, they walk alone, they talk to themselves in the street in profound and troubled monologues like saints in the depths of temptation."

"I'm getting very sleepy," Brita said.

"I don't want to get back in the car right now."

"You're the driver, Scott."

"I don't think I can drive another fifteen feet."

He got up and turned off another light.

Sirens sounding to the east.

Then he sat near her on the sofa. He leaned toward her and touched the back of his hand to her cheek. She watched a mouse run up the face of a window and disappear. She had a theory the sirens drove them mad.

She said, "In some places where you eat standing up you are forced to look directly into a mirror. This is total control of the person's responses, like a consumer prison. And the mirror is literally inches away so you can hardly put the food in your mouth without hitting into it."

"The mirror is for safety, for protection. You use it to hide. You're totally alone in the foreground but you're also part of the swarm, the shifting jelly of heads looming over your little face..."

Here's another bit. I like how characters talk past each other, how the dialog just sounds like real people talking, and how Karen is implicitly characterized:
"Would you call this an average day or going into the realm of horrid excess?"

"What's your name?"

"Karen."

"And you live here."

"Scott and I."

"I'll tell you the truth, Karen. I'm not interested in photography. I'm interested in writers."

"Then why don't you stay home and read?"

She reached for a box of muffins on the countertop and put it down near Brita's coffee. Then she curled into a chair and played with a stray spoon. She wore a limp blouse over blue jeans and had the body lines of a teenager, the crooks and skews and smeariness, and a way of merging with furniture, a kind of draped indecision.

Brita said, "I read at home, I read in hotels, I take a book with me on a twenty-minute trip to the dentist. Then I read in the waiting room."

"Did you always know you wanted to be a photographer?"

"I read on planes, I read in laundromats. How old are you?"

"Twenty-four."

"And you help out here."

Mao II is some of the best DeLillo I've read yet.

I'm James Sulak, a software developer in Houston, Texas.

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