“The Angel Esmeralda” Nine Stories by Don DeLillo

“The Angel Esmeralda”  Nine Stories by Don DeLillo  (2011) – 211 pages

Once in a while I come across a phrase that perfectly describes an author.  Henry Clayton Wickham, in a review of “The Angel Esmeralda in the Daily Texan, had the following line in regard to Don DeLillo.

 “People in his stories grope for one another to suppress the deep unease of human life.”

 Don DeLillo is a fiction writer who makes you feel ‘the deep unease of life’.  He keeps us readers off balance, and thus he is a ‘difficult’ writer.  His interests are wide ranging, and a reader can never guess what subject he is going to write about next.  He is the opposite of those comfortable writers from whom you know exactly what to expect when you pick up one of their books. 

 My first foray into DeLillo’s work was somewhat disastrous.  I remember how much I hated ‘Great Jones Street’.  My reaction to that novel kept me from reading DeLillo for several years.  However by the mid-Eighties I had read enough appreciative reviews of his novels that I returned to his work.  The three novels ‘White Noise’ and ‘Libra’ and ‘Mao II’ were all excellent, perhaps the finest modern novels I read during that time.  In 1997 DeLillo wrote what critics consider his masterpiece, the 827 page ‘Underworld’.  Unfortunately I haven’t gotten around yet to reading ‘Underworld’ which is considered one of the great novels of the Twentieth century, so I settled for this new book of short stories instead.

 Don DeLillo is not naturally a short story writer.  “The Angel Esmeralda” with its nine stories contains all the stories he has written over the last thirty years, and he had to write three of them in 2011 just to have enough.  The stories are certainly wide ranging in subject matter from nuns caring for the hopeless in a rundown drug-infested Bronx neighborhood (‘The Angel Esmeralda’) to a man in prison for investment fraud (‘Hammer and Sickle’) to two college student guys imagining a life for an old man they see on the street everyday (Midnight in Dostoyevsky’).  Probably my favorite edgy story in the collection is ‘The Baader-Meinhof Gang’ about a young woman’s encounter with a young man in an art museum. 

 Most of the stories in ‘The Angel Esmeralda’ I ‘got’, but there were a couple that I didn’t ‘get’.  I listened to the last story, ‘The Starveling’ three times.  It is the story of a man who goes to the movies all day long every day.  The details of this story were interesting, but I’m pretty sure that I could listen to this story a hundred times and still not figure out what DeLillo means.

 Don DeLillo is a writer who isn’t afraid to take the risk of not being understood.   He doesn’t patronize his readers by giving them what they want.  I value Don DeLillo extremely highly, because he has written modern contemporary novels that have had a profound effect on me.  I think he does work better for the reader in novel form than the short form, because in the novel the reader can settle in and finally understand what DeLillo is getting at.           

 “The Angel Esmeralda” is one of three finalists for the Story Prize which awards a $20,000 prize to a collection of short fiction.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Okay, I think you have convinced me to give him another try!

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  2. Hi Jeanie,
    I know DeLillo’s recent short novels have been accused of being opaque, I suppose the short stories are a safe bet, because many were written a lot earlier. I did enjoy the short stories and it is up- for a major award, although there were 2 or 3 of the stories I did not exactly figure out what they meant.

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  3. […] for a second opinion? Here’s what some others thought: Reading the Short Story | Tony’s Book World | Marks in the […]

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