Review of “Cosmopolis” by Don DeLillo

I reviewed the first book written by Don DeLillo, White Noise, and the author’s style of exploring the thoughts of the main character intrigued me, so I read this book. Rather than unfolding over months, this story takes place in less than twenty-four hours, much of it in the back of a limousine. The narrative is third-person but focuses on the main character so there’s no confusion — no head hopping. However, the central character, a young (28 years) financial wizard, is as very different from the main character in White Noise, as you can imagine — in every way except one.

Several aspects of this novel bothered me: 1) I found the dialogue confusing, with what should be questions presented as statements, and incomplete sentences; 2) the actions of the central character (Eric) are inconsistent and make no sense, not even within the context of the personal and professional crises he is facing; 3) unlike the college professor in White Noise, the character’s own thoughts don’t explain his actions; 4) the journey across Manhattan is fraught with interruptions, as one would expect, but some of them are so wild that they appear to be tossed in to create (artificial) situations for Eric to repeat his previous behavior.

As for the grammar and punctuation, it’s difficult to comment on; however, the narrator speaks clearly, even if none of the characters (professionals with advanced degrees and working folk) seem capable of finishing a sentence. I also noticed the same general trend I have reported in other novels: there is a subtle shift after the halfway point, at which the erratic dialogue begins to straighten out, but only randomly. The only thing that made sense was the ending, but even that was flawed by Eric’s unexplained deteriorating cognitive function and wildly self-destructive behavior.

This story should have been told by Eric rather than a third-person narrator, who doesn’t appear to know his subject as well as the reader might have hoped. After all, it is a story about overlapping emotional crises and their manifestation in the actions of an apparently normal person.

Finally, I found this story depressing, even though it doesn’t portray anything like the misery explored by Russian or Chinese authors. Perhaps that was all the author wanted to communicate …

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