Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review #135: "Sine Cosine Tangent" by Don DeLillo

Issue: Feb. 22, 2016

Story: "Sine Cosine Tangent" by Don DeLillo

Rating: $$$

Review: Stories by George Saunders and Don DeLillo back to back? What the hell is The New Yorker trying to do...kill me??

Like Saunders, DeLillo is a giant of contemporary English letter. Hell, a titan. I'd even go ahead and say he's carved out a permanent place in the pantheon of English literature. Period. Such is the depth and accuracy and skill with which he plumbs the depths of dysfunction in modern society with his prose and the sheer number of times he's done it...including his new novel Zero K.

Gotta confess, however, I didn't even realize he was still alive.

"Sine Cosine Tangent" is a story about a period during the adolescence of Jeffrey Lockhart (a character in Zero K, although I'm told this story is not an "excerpt" of the novel, per se), a young man with divorced parents, during which a fascination with words starts to emerge from that great miasma of thoughts, emotions, and hormones we call the "teenage years."

Jeffrey explores his emotions and the people, the actions, that give his life its texture, by looking at words and trying to define them. Watching his mother perform the daily action of clean lint from her clothing with a lint roller prompts him to want to define the words "lint" and "hangar." Clearly this is a young man looking for answers through words, trying to look around the sides of what is accepted and what can be seen with the naked eye.

Part of DeLillo's genius in a story like this, and I'd imagine most of his writing (I've only read White Noise), is to, like a great poet, weave in elements of memory, lyricism, and careful repetition, throughout the action and dialogue happening in the present moment, so that a sort of swirling effect is created. Many writers attempt this. Many writers fail. It takes the skilled hand of a DeLillo or a Roth to get this done and get it done well and, I think, is the mark of a truly mature writer. The ability to bring together the experimental and the straight-ahead narrative into a consistent, readable, and effective style.

I read this story too long ago to give you a more complete blow-by-blow review. Apologies. You should read it (or something by DeLillo) on your own anyway. Doctor's orders.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Apologizer" by Milan Kundera

Issue: May 4, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: It took me five years and three separate attempts to finish Milan Kundera's famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but in spite of that, quotes and insights from that book still rattle round my head on a weekly basis. What I mean to say is: my feelings on Kundera are very similar to my feelings on Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work, but in small doses, like this short story.

Like Murakami, Kundera uses elements of magical realism, but where in a Murakami story you might encounter a flying dolphin or a disappearing hotel or a person who has lived his whole life in the same room, refusing to leave, Kundera's magical realism offers more direct insights and perspective on real life.

In Kundera's worlds, time and space are malleable and everything that ever happened in history is happening at the same time, and the narrator is a completely omniscient, caring, witty, and hands-on god-like being.

And so it is with "The Apo…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Meet the President!" by Zadie Smith

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. If you told me when I was 12 that I'd be doing this I'd have been like, "Dork. There's no such thing as blogs," and I'd have been right...

Issue: Aug. 12 & 19, 2013

Story: "Meet the President!"

Author:Zadie Smith

(Please note: I've developed a highly sophisticated grading system, which I'll be using from now on.  Each story will now receive a Final Grade of either READ IT or DON'T READ it. See the bottom of the review for this story's grade...after you've read the review, natch.)

Plot: Set in England, far into the future (lets say 2113) a privileged youth of 15, named Bill Peek, encounters a few poor villagers from a small, abandoned coastal town on the southeast shore. He meets a little girl named Aggie, who is going to her sister's funeral. Peek is cut-off from real life by a sophisticated video game system that is implanted in his head, therefore th…