Don DeLillo’s American Dream

Jon Baskin in The Nation:

ScreenHunter_1939 May. 14 20.40Ever since Underworld, the 1997 book that marked the end of his ambitious middle period, Don DeLillo’s novels have been creepy, inconclusive, and short. Zero K, his 16th novel and a book that has the feel of a parting gesture, is no exception. Its first sentence, “Everybody wants to own the end of the world,” expresses the kind of sentiment that, if you’ve been steeped in DeLillo’s prose long enough, strikes a familiar chord. It might be profound; it might be nonsense. In any case, it has something to do with death.

The line belongs to Ross Lockhart, a billionaire Manhattan-based hedge-fund speculator. Ross is speaking to his unemployed 34-year-old son Jeffrey, who has come to visit him in a nondescript cluster of buildings, known as the Convergence, in a desert somewhere near Kyrgyzstan. Ross has brought his terminally ill second wife, Artis, to the Convergence to have her body entombed in a technologically engineered underworld, where it will be preserved until science has perfected the tools to reanimate her. Ross finds the process so exciting that, briefly, and despite being completely healthy, he elects to undergo it himself. Then, without any explanation, Ross changes his mind and returns to Manhattan. Then he changes his mind again. Father and son go back to the Convergence, and Jeffrey watches as Ross is lowered into Zero K, the special unit at the facility for healthy subjects willing to make a “certain kind of transition to the next level.” Afterward, Jeffrey wanders aimlessly around the halls of the Convergence before returning, just as aimlessly, to the streets of Manhattan.

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