Friday, August 21, 2009

Book Review: Americana by Don DeLillo

I really wanted to like this book. I remember when I read DeLillo's book "Libra" that I had been completely enamored with his prose. It was a really good book, and he had a penchant for detail that was completely unmatched. And the prose in Americana is good, but I just didn't like it as much. It's not DeLillo's best.

There are a lot of good things I can say about the book. I did love his repetition of icons and ideas that really are associated with Americana: the cheap hotel room, the idea of female sexuality as glorified by commercials, the romantic ideals of cross-country travel. The strongest sections are those in which the protagonist, David Bell, reflects on his own past, particularly his memories of his family and his mother.

There is also a clear transformation in David's character from the beginning of the book to the end, and that ultimately comprises the majority of the story arch. And DeLillo's prose is still very lush and exciting at points. I definitely love the way he phrases things because it is very vivid and alive.

What is important to note about Americana is that it was DeLillo's first novel. He can't be expected to have the poise and delicacy in his early writing that he would later in his career with works such as "Libra" and "Underworld."

Further, some of the frustration I had with the novel may be more a matter of timing. The novel was written in 1971 and was very much a novel of its own time. The Vietnam War is at the front of consciousness throughout the book, as are elements of changing cultural mores. It seems an early example of the kind of work that would inspire the likes of Bret Easton Ellis, with his literature of the grotesque, and it is clear that the novel investigates many postmodern elements.

All said, while Americana wasn't all that good itself, I would recommend it to any DeLillo fan in order to gain a wider understanding of his work. For anyone else, I would recommend DeLillo and I would start with his excellent novel, "Libra."

This review was reposted and expanded from my review at Good Reads. Oh, you love reviewing books, too? Join! We can be friends!

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