Getting into a novel: ‘Americana’ by Don Delillo

americana - Copy

This is simply going to be a brief observation on that first reading of a new book and story, though in this case I mean new to me, obviously, Americana being Don Delillo’s first novel published in 1971.

Clearly the consequence of good writing, I love that phenomena of accepting immediately the world which is being presented and then moving in and around it, led by the storytelling. I think I am quite a self-conscious reader: I do continuously regard the qualities of the writing itself, thinking how memorable a line/section is and too often wishing I could write like that, this latter reflection probably the motivator for the first. I do also often stop to consider if it could be exemplar to use with students, exemplifying effective writing. It takes me a long time to finish a novel.

But with a good book, and opening, I am still within the story and seeing with its eyes and hearing its voice.

With Americana, it is also interesting that I am engaged by the portrayal of David Bell, through his sarcastic if superior in tone first person narrative, but I don’t particularly like him already and that has made me pause because the book I have just finished, Willy Vlautin’s The Free, presented characters for whom I cared deeply. And it was the same with the book before that, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where the fundamental focus is to care about the father and son in such an appalling context. I am guessing, however, that my dislike for Bell will be transferred to the context in the novel that makes him what he is. We shall see.

That’s it really in terms of expressing initial feelings I had when reading this morning, but now to two quotes that I instantly liked. The first is from the second page of the opening chapter when David is at a party with his party-partner and describing its guests and how he observes them:

We waited for someone to approach us and start a conversation. It was a party and we didn’t want to talk to each other. The whole point was to separate for the evening and find exciting people to talk to and then at the very end to meet again and tell each other how terrible it had been and how glad we were to be together again. This is the essence of Western civilization.

That makes you think: is it Delillo being comically ironic, or Bell, if he is capable?

The other is descriptive, and I can tell already there will be much like this and of this evocative quality. I am already thinking [narrowly!] of how un-American the prose style is, not the compound sentences of Steinbeck and Chandler and Carver, but the more elegant and complex fluency of English writing, though its detail places it clearly in New York:

We would go to a small French restaurant way over on the West Side, on the rim of no man’s land, where the wind blows cold off the river and the low bleak tenements breathe decay; and where, at this time of the year, there is a sense of total emptiness, of a place that has been abandoned before the boots of war. No one could live there but torn cats and children with transparent bellies, and those distant lights, crackling over Times Square, belong to another city in another age.

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