Book 65: Zero K


"They would come and take her. They would wheel her into an elevator and take her down to one of the so-called numbered levels. She would die, chemically prompted, in a subzero vault, in a highly precise medical procedure guided by mass delusion, by superstition and arrogance and self-deception."

Dates read: June 25-27, 2016

Rating: 5/10

I can't remember the first time I really thought about what happens to us after we die, but I do remember that it kept me up all night. My very first existential crisis. I started wondering where "I" go when my body stops. Do I just disappear? Does some aspect of me survive somehow? How do I know how it all ends (the story of the people I love, the story of the world)? Religion answers most of those anxiety-producing questions for people of faith, but I'm not religious. So I just have anxiety.

Life, and death, and life after death are at the heart of Don DeLillo's Zero K. I'd never read DeLillo before, but his reputation proceeds him so I was excited to finally do so. The novel focuses on Jeffery Lockhart, who we first meet as he's entering a mysterious facility somewhere in Central Asia called the Convergence. His stepmother Artis is dying, and is choosing to have herself cryogenically frozen so that she can be revived when her body's ills can be cured and her consciousness can be restored. The Convergence is a cult-like space for the super-rich to shuffle off this mortal coil, with art installations, like mannequins in discomfiting poses and banks of TV screens that play footage of disasters on mute, among a maze of smoothly paneled identical rooms. Artis is there thanks to the incredible wealth of Ross Lockhart, Jeffrey's father, with whom he has had a difficult relationship even since Ross walked out on Jeffrey and his mother. Jeffrey is disturbed by his time at the Convergence, and it resonates after he returns to his native New York and tries to resume his normal life, where he's made a practice of detachment: temporary jobs, long-distance girlfriends. We get peeks at Jeffrey's childhood, dominated by memories of his father's departure and the fallout that had on his mother, whose own lonely death also looms large in Jeffrey's psyche. It's left to the reader to try to figure out how much it was his time at Convergence, or his childhood, or a mixture of the two, that plays into Jeffrey's movements towards actually getting closer to his latest girlfriend and her troubled son when he gets back to New York.

I'm a big movie-watching as well as a book-reader (I actually think the latter has supplanted the former these days since I'm reading so much more than I used to), and this book reminded me of a literary version of a mash-up of The Tree of Life and the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's a dream-like meditation on mortality, without much actual plot or even real character development. It feels like abstract art in a way...it's got a tone and a theme, but making connections and fleshing it out and figuring out how to feel about it are on the person taking it in (in this case, the reader). It's a book to read slowly and contemplate. For me, personally, I found it alienating. Like the end of 2001, it made me think about things and have feelings, but I didn't really feel like I understood it. And not in the way that makes you want to go back and mine deeper in the layers of it to find new gems, but in the way where I felt like it was written specifically to be distant and aloof. If you're in a mood to contemplate the deeper questions of life, this will be a solid read but otherwise the supple prose is about the only selling point.

Tell me, blog friends...what books did you feel like you just didn't quite get?

One year ago, I was reading: A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

2 comments

  1. I tried this one back when it came out and gave up about a quarter of the way through. I just thought much of the writing was pretentious and nonsensical. And I didn't get it either....ha!

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    1. Good, it's not just me being a dummy then! It definitely felt very self-consciously "arty". I want to read some other DeLillo, just because I feel like there has to be something behind all the praise for him besides this, right?

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