DeLillo manages to be very descriptive and evocative while using an accessible vocabulary. I only needed to look up three words in this book. Word choice is the biggest difference between DeLillo and David Foster Wallace; I have thirty pages of vocabulary notes from Infinite Jest. I understand this was part of Wallace’s style but it makes his work less effective as a narrative (I can’t remain immersed when I need to look up definitions every page). It also makes DeLillo one of the more accessible modern “literary” authors.
It was suspected to be a drug operation with a thriving sideline in black-market piasters.
noun – a monetary unit of several Middle Eastern countries.
 A good character introduction is a rare and wonderful thing.
Mudger wore a blacksmith’s apron and heavy-duty gloves. He was a thickset man with curly hair trimmed close, with ash-blond eyebrows and a strong jaw, slightly jutting – the picture of a man who wouldn’t yield easily to aging. His eyes were a fine silky blue. He had a bent nose, broadly columned neck and something of a surfer’s numinous gleam – his eyes and hair and brows shining just a bit, as though bleached by the elements.
He laughed, eyes not leaving her face. She judged him to be the kind of man deeply pleased by the appreciation of others. He would be a studier of faces, eager to gauge people’s reactions to things he said. Robust men were always like this.
“History is so comforting,” he told the man. “Isn’t this why people collect? To own a fragment of the tangible past. Life is fleeting and we seek consolation in durable things.”
 This is an example of good stage direction (what I call the movements of characters’ eyes, hands, arms, legs, etc. while conversing). I have a crutch of giving characters cigarettes or drinks as props. I always appreciate an author who can make movement feel organic or significant.
She leaned well forward, peering at him, her hands hanging down over her knees, almost as though she was getting ready to slip off the end of the ottoman, an impromptu comic bit.
“Who are you, Selvy?”
He sat back in his chair, an intentional countermotion, a withdrawal, and smiled in deep fatigue, self-deprecatingly. He appeared to be disassociating himself from whatever significance the question by its nature ascribed to him.
 DeLillo can surprise with moments of intense visual connection, even when he’s lacking on the emotional front. He uses fragmentary sentences to great effect, as well. Like quick cuts in an action film, you don’t want to overuse fragments; the reader will become disoriented and confused and worse, they’ll notice what you’re doing. As much as possible, authors want to hide their style from the reader. I have hardly any notes on some of my favorite books because I was too drawn into them to notice the machinery and structure. A good author speaks directly to the reader; the page ceases to exist.
A battle-scarred Cadillac moved slowly down Broadway, a man’s foot hanging out one window. It weaved on past, bumpers caked with mud, streaks of dirt across all four doors. Selvy watched it plow into the back of the maroon and gold pimpmobile. Tinkling glass. Little puffs of dust. The onlookers were overjoyed. They glanced at each other wide-eyed as if to confirm the dimensions of the event.
 DeLillo barely uses “that”. Why here? The length of the sentence? Clarity of: “____ so that ____” ?
There was a lightbulb directly overhead so that he could determine the best sharpening angle by noting the shadow cast by the blade on the stone, and its gradual disappearance.
 Again with the fragments. I love this style. He’s in enough command of his rhythm that he doesn’t overuse it (though I have read reviews accusing him of just that).
Eyes, bodies, voices. The personal force. It’s never the voice that tells the lies. Beware of personality. Dynamic temperament, beware.
Two men and a chimpanzee were seating themselves at the bar. They didn’t react to the attention they were getting, and in moments people went back to their food and drink. The chimp wore a leisure suit with flared trousers.
 Use of “that” I probably would edit out. So why is it correct here? Is it correct here or is it a matter of writer’s preference? (I need to talk to an English teacher…)
Lomax chided himself for being slow to realize that Mudger was in a foul mood.
“Before pop art, there was such a thing as bad taste. Now there’s kitsch, schlock, camp and porn.”
He watched Annette leaning over the breakfast dishes, concentrating on the movie, trying to fathom it. No one concentrated the way she did. She got lost in things, profoundly involved. The next day, if you asked her, she wouldn’t be able to tell you what she’d seen.
Some of the houses had been abandoned. Others were half ghosts, apparently still occupied, but with windows out completely, or with soft plastic sheeting replacing the glass, torn sheeting, sheeting rippling in the wind, and with sand everywhere, and tire tracks in the harder dirt, distinct reliefs, like tribal markings left behind to clarify local weather and geology.
 Excellent callback to note  (page 54).
It was becoming clear. He was starting to understand what it meant. All that testing (…)
All this time he’d been preparing to die.
It was a course in dying. In how to die violently. In how to be killed by your own side, in secret, no hard feelings.
 I just realized a flaw in one of my getting-around-“that” tactics. Take this sentence:
Lightborne circled the small table that held the projector Odell had brought with him.
I might be tempted to deliver the sentence as:
Lightborne circled the small table holding the projector Odell had brought with him.
But my example makes it unclear what is holding the projector (Lightborne or the table). Using “that” clarifies.
 Is this a joke? I don’t get it. Obviously we’re talking about the Kennedys but why is Harry Truman the punchline?
“All he talks about is John F. Kidney, Bobby Kidney (…) I keep telling him what Rose Kidney told Bibby Kidney (…) That was Harry Truman.”
Yucca stalk and ocotillo sticking out of the sand.
noun – a spiny, scarlet-flowered desert shrub of the southwestern US and Mexico.
A woman who reminded him of a Vestier nude.
Antoine Vestier: French miniaturist and painter of portraits (1740 – 1824).
Elbowing his way into the conversation, Percival wasn’t surprised to see her suddenly actuate – the eyes, the smile, the tense and hopeful and solemn delight. Being recognized would never cease to be one of the spiritual rewards of public service (…)
Percival believed celebrity was a phenomenon related to religious mysticism.
Talerico had seen his cousins terrorize people – cops more than once, men with guns – simply by displaying rage that bordered on the irrational. He was obviously possessed. Too real to deal with. Once they see you don’t mind dying, they’re in serious trouble and know it.
 For a long time, I avoided using “he’d” and “she’d” in my narratives, thinking it was somehow unprofessional. I’m starting to see it’s not a terrible thing. It can help the problem of having too many “hads” (or even make a “had had” into a more manageable “he’d had”). This sentence works fine as DeLillo presents it. It would be cumbersome if he had spelled out the contractions.
It also reminded him of the surreal conversation he’d had, long distance with Van, just before he’d left home to come down here.
Trying to convey the impact of violent action by reporting concatenations of letters and numbers.
noun – a series of interconnected things or events. The action of linking things together in a series.
 (My thought at page 212, caused by no particular passage): This book is clearly in its climax stage. The sections are shorter, people are being shot, tensions are high, but I’m not invested in the characters enough to care. A couple of them I can’t even keep straight. Everyone could die at the end and my reaction would be, “Hm. Okay.”
 It’s weird to catch glimpses of behind-the-scenes scaffolding in fiction. During this part of the book, I sensed DeLillo grappling with the fact that he had wanted Moll to be a main character and is realizing now it just didn’t work out. She made her own decisions and excluded herself from the climax. But she was important enough to earlier events not to be entirely written out. He gives her some token involvement near the end but she ultimately has no real arc or purpose.
Moll realized how wrong she’d been to feel apprehensive. The action was elsewhere, and included everyone but her. By refusing sexual alliance with Earl Mudger, she’d sealed herself off from the others. That was the effect, intended or not. There was no danger here. No one watched or listened any longer. Security. Why did it feel so disappointing.
“The dark night of the soul.”
Dark Night of the Soul: the title given to a poem by 16th-century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross. Eight stanzas of five lines each, narrating the journey of the soul from body to a union with God. The term is used in Roman Catholicism for a spiritual crisis in a journey towards union with God.
Sam Browne belt.
Sam Browne: British Indian Army cavalry officer in India and Afghanistan (1824 – 1901). After losing his left arm, he devised a belt which would let him draw his sword with one hand. A Sam Browne belt is wide (usually leather), supported by a narrower strap passing diagonally over the right shoulder to stabilize the scabbard of a sword. In modern times, the belt is used the carry a pistol.
That day was like this one. A morning of startling brightness. Clarity without distracting glare. The sky was saturated with light. Everything was color.
Moll was suspicious of quests. At the bottom of most long and obsessive searches, in her view, was some vital deficiency on the part of the individual in pursuit, a meagerness of spirit (…)
Even more depressing than the nature of a given quest was the likely result. Whether people searched for an object of some kind, or inner occasion, or answer, or state of being, it was almost always disappointing. People came up against themselves in the end. Nothing but themselves. Of course there were those who believed the search itself was all that mattered. The search was the reward.
Lightborne wouldn’t agree. Lightborne wanted a marketable product, she was sure. He wasn’t in it for the existential lift.
 Q: Is this true?
[Chaplin and Hitler were] born the same week of the same month of the same year.
Charles Chaplin was born April 16, 1889 (Tuesday)
Adolf Hitler was born April 20, 1889 (Saturday)
Well, I’ll be damned. I did not know that.
Of the seven DeLillo books I’ve read, this one has the strongest, most satisfying ending. But if you’re going to read anything by him, start with White Noise and Underworld. If you want more, Running Dog isn’t a good third step.
Next week, we’ll switch gears and look at a non-fiction book: Eric Larson’s The Devil in the White City.