I’ve now completed the set, read all DeLillo’s books. This is his first novel and though impressive as a first novel doesn’t really have much to recommend it in my eyes. It’s narrated by an obnoxious filmmaker who heads West to find his creative soul, sort of like a literary road movie. We get lots of snapshots of American life; we also get quite a lot of overwriting and a fair smattering of pretentiousness.
A fascinating feature of his books is that they often begin on a more inspired plane than they end. DeLillo loves writing; but he loves writing sentences rather than stories. He’s like Nabokov in the delight he takes in crafting individual sentences. I don’t think any living writer is better at individual sentence writing. I can think of at least four of his novels that begin with stunningly beautiful prose but eventually peter out as if he runs out of that magic elixir, inspiration. At the point where he tries to forge into shape what he’s previously written. DeLillo doesn’t do plots. You could say plot is the discipline at the heart of any novel. It’s probably frustrating at times, like the rules of any game. And it seems to curb DeLillo’s flow. The alternative to plotting a novel is to theme it. Which is what he does but has a tendency to become a bit too esoteric and ambitious, to lose focus. Zero K was probably better unified in terms of theme than some of his earlier novels but the inspired writing was missing. The Names has the inspired writing but the theme becomes ever more oblique and elusive.
To be honest I can’t think of much to say about Americana except if you fancy reading him make sure you avoid this one. It was a bit like listening to an early demo recorded in a garage by a band you love.