Powell’s has posted a detailed review of Falling Man by James Wood. He says a lot of good stuff, and puts into words some of the vague complaints I’ve been unable to articulate, including when he singles out a description of Keith playing poker:
But DeLillo is a very strange writer. For every elegant, compact sentence closing around its meaning as if delicately preying on it, there are passages that bear the other DeLillo mark, which could best be called a kind of fastidious vagueness. These are passages in which fancy words are deployed with a cool, technical confidence, in a spirit of precision, as if they have actual referents, but in which meaning is smeared and obscured. Consider this description of poker, a game that Keith had played every week with three other men, before "the day":
They played each hand in a glazed frenzy. All the action was somewhere behind the eyes, in naïve expectation and calculated deceit. Each man tried to entrap the other and fix limits to his own false dreams, the bond trader, the lawyer, the other lawyer, and these games were the funneled essence, the clear and intimate extract of their daytime initiatives. The cards skimmed across the green baize surface of the round table. They used intuition and cold-war risk analysis. They used cunning and blind luck. They waited for the prescient moment, the time to make the bet based on the card they knew was coming. Felt the queen and there it was. They tossed in the chips and watched the eyes across the table. They regressed to preliterate folkways, petitioning the dead. There were elements of healthy challenge and outright mockery. There were elements of one's intent to shred the other's gauzy manhood.
At least for me, what goes through my head while playing poker is nothing like what DeLillo describes. I can never “feel” the upcoming card and never play like I do. (Of course, I don’t win that often...) I don’t even know what he means by “cold-war risk analysis.” DeLillo’s limited understanding of poker and the mindset of serious players is “stuffed full of obvious authorial research” and took away from my immersion in the book.
[via The Elegant Variation]