three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
57-Mar-Apr-2012
user_rating: 
0

Nine Stories

A-The-Angel-EsmeraldaThe author of 15 novels, including Americana (1971), White Noise (1985), Mao II (1991), Underworld (1997), Falling Man (3 of 5 Stars May/June 2007), and Cosmopolis (2003), Don DeLillo is one of the most influential American novelists writing today. The Angel Esmeralda is DeLillo's first collection of stories, all previously written and published over more than three decades.

The Story: Don DeLillo's short fiction takes on issues that wouldn't be out of place in his longer work. There's "Human Moments in World War III," in which "the banning of nuclear weapons has made the world safe for war"; "Baader-Meinhof," a vignette that explores the uncomfortable intersection of art and politics; "Creation," in which a couple waiting to return to civilization realizes with increasing panic that they'll never make it back. And in the title story, a nun in the South Bronx questions her faith when a runaway girl is raped and killed. The nine pieces here run the gamut of social commentary, but one theme dominates: the "chaos and blur" of contemporary lives, despite our having "invented logic to beat back our creatural selves." And how we keep our "creatural selves" at bay remains life's biggest challenge for DeLillo's characters.
Scribner. 224 pages. $24. ISBN: 9781451655841

Guardian (UK) 4.5 of 5 Stars"In these stories, previously published between 1979 and 2011, DeLillo's prose punctuates the exactly casual with a rich compression of imagery or argument. ... It would be condescending to say that, over the three-decade span of this collection (and the 15 novels since 1971), DeLillo has kept up with modern culture; more accurate to say that culture keeps catching up with him." Steven Poole

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars"The dialogue is witty, nihilistic, dread-inspiring. ... Eight of these nine stories are my favorites, and maybe even the weakest--‘Hammer and Sickle,' in which the prisoners, all caught Ponzi-scheme dealers, hear the voice of the next generation, the people who will eventually pay the price, doing a stock market report on a cable channel show--will become a favorite next time I read it." Betsy Willeford

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars"The stories in The Angel Esmeralda typically range in mood from unease to dread, but there are always these moments of grace, never cheap, usually not entirely clear. ... DeLillo is a demanding but not necessarily ‘difficult' writer, and this transporting book, besides being a hole-plugging treat for longtime fans, should double--as things often do in DeLillo's world--as a short introduction to his singular and routinely brilliant work." Dylan Hicks

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars"Each of the stories collected in The Angel Esmeralda addresses a different kind of unease. ... DeLillo packs fertile ruminations and potent consolation into each of these rich, dense, concentrated stories." Liesl Schillinger

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars"As for the stories, some are more realized than others--‘Midnight in Dostoevsky' and ‘The Starveling,' especially, seem a little forced, despite what they have to say about the contradictions of narrative--but that's only to be expected from 30 years of odds and ends. More to the point is that in this collection, as in his novels, DeLillo challenges us to see a world defined by our projections, a world in which the only reality is the one we create." David L. Ulin

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars"The title story in Don DeLillo's first ever collection of short fiction, is a dazzlingly told tale of despair and ruination, the dream of redemption and the testing of faith. ... The other stories in this volume (written between 1979 and 2011) are not nearly as powerful as ‘The Angel Esmeralda,' but they offer telling insights into Mr. DeLillo's themes and preoccupations as a writer." Michiko Kakutani

Wall Street Journal 2.5 of 5 Stars"Midway through the stories in The Angel Esmeralda, as happens in many of Mr. DeLillo's novels, the reader wearies of his avoidance of ‘real things.'... The authorial tic of appearing to examine life and language with a pair of tongs makes Mr. DeLillo seem less a modern prophet than a hypochondriac--less a writer coolly diagnosing a society's fears of human interaction than one falling back on those fears simply out of habit." Sam Sacks

Spectator (UK) 2 of 5 Stars"It's not hard to see why the Atlantic critic B. R. Myers, in A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness of American Literary Prose, named Bronx-born Don DeLillo as one of several US heavyweights whose blather we mistake for art. ... If you haven't read him yet, these tales are a good place to decide whether you find his frequency mesmeric or just scrambled."

Critical Summary

With the publication of his iconic novel White Noise in 1985, Don DeLillo became a writer of the first rank, alongside chroniclers of American culture such as Thomas Pynchon, John Updike, and Philip Roth; his novels, in turn, influenced both Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace. In The Angel Esmeralda, drawn from three decades' worth of DeLillo's short fiction, the labyrinthine plotting and philosophical rigor of the novels give way to vignettes that distill the essence of DeLillo's social commentary. The author remains consistent in his critique of American culture (the story "Hammer and Sickle" posits two preteen girls delivering the news on a children's television show with the same gravitas as their network counterparts as their father watches from a white-collar prison). The book, while not groundbreaking and, like most short story collections, a little uneven, is a solid introduction for those who have never read DeLillo and comfort food for the ones who already know what they're getting.