Don DeLillo – Sine Cosine Tangent (New Yorker, 22nd Feb 2016)

I think Don DeLillo is probably my favourite living author. He’s one of those artists, like Paul Thomas Anderson or David Bowie, where even if the execution is flawed, I admire the attempt and intentions. Even if I don’t think the piece of art is objectively great, I never feel like I wasted my time on it. Plus, at his best, DeLillo has created some of my favourite books, notably Underworld and The Names. Anybody who can convince me that an 832-page book is one of the best ever written has beaten me at least twice over.

DeLillo’s got a new book coming out this year, called Zero K, his first novel in six years. After Underworld, he scaled back his books, making them slighter in both length (like the brilliant The Body Artist, which was my introduction) and in meaning (his last novel, Point Omega, seemed to be a puzzle with no solution). Zero K looks as though it will clock in at a greater length and, after such a long gestation, with some loftier goals than anything since Underworld. I guess we’ll see.

For now, the only thing we have to go on is Sine Cosine Tangent, a piece of short fiction (and excerpt of Zero K) released in a recent issue of The New Yorker. I finally got around to reading it and thought it was great. I’m not going to critique a short story, because that seems like a crazy criticism:art ratio of words, but suffice it to say that it reads like late DeLillo: deceptively brilliant prose, in that it’s simple but meaningful in its simplicity; astute psychological observations; a deft control of time, space, and movement throughout each; treating life, relationships, and the self as riddles with each other as the answers. There’s basically nothing to the story, but when I was done it, I wished I was reading the rest of Zero K.

Take my enjoyment with a grain of salt, though. Two people whose opinions I value didn’t think very much of the story at all, with one of them calling it “utterly forgettable.” Hah. What do I know? Nothing.

But if you want, read it for free over at the New Yorker website now.

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