James Ley reviews 'Zero K' by Don DeLillo

James Ley reviews 'Zero K' by Don DeLillo

Zero K

by Don DeLillo

Picador $29.99 pb, 272 pp, 9781509822850

Among Don DeLillo's sixteen previous novels, White Noise (1985) is commonly held up as the apotheosis of his satirical vision, while his postwar epic Underworld (1997) tends to be lauded as his grand statement, his unofficial entry (they're all unofficial) in the never-ending competition to write the Great American Novel.

For me, the essential DeLillo novel is Libra (1988), his fictionalised account of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald. This is partly because it grounds the author's interest in paranoia and catastrophe in an attempt to solve the riddle of Oswald's character, but also because what Libra has – which DeLillo's novels as a general rule tend not to have – is an irresistible teleology. Its speculative history has an air of fate and something of the gravitas of genuine tragedy, because we all know in advance the point at which its wealth of provocative and insinuating detail must converge: that stunning moment at Dealey Plaza in November 1963, captured for all time by Abraham Zapruder's home-movie camera, when President Kennedy's head explodes.

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James Ley

James Ley

James Ley is an essayist and literary critic who lives in Melbourne. A former Editor of Sydney Review of Books, he has been a regular contributor to ABR since 2003.