Don Delillo - The Angel Esmeralda (4 stars)

Challenging but ultimately rewarding collection of short stories spanning the author's career

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Don Delillo - The Angel Esmeralda

(Picador)

Is anyone ever truly happy in a Don DeLillo universe? As the astronaut narrator of ‘Human Moments in World War III’ puts it, ‘happiness is not a fact of this experience’. The profundities and quandaries of existence weigh down mightily upon the shoulders of his characters and leave little room for any glimpses of joy. But for the reader, there is much pleasure to be gained from plunging headlong into the physical and psychological mazes within a DeLillo story and in The Angel Esmeralda we get a taste of his career’s epic span with nine tales plucked from 1979’s ‘Creation’ up to this year’s ‘The Starveling’.

If there are any unifying elements to these stories, dislocation and distance are at the heart of them. DeLillo daubs a splash of unease all over ‘Creation’, where we’re never quite sure if we’re in the middle of a holiday gone horrible awry or with individuals who are forced to bide their time before being able to escape some terrible human-made catastrophe. There is dire peril too at the core of ‘The Runner’ with a child snatched in broad daylight, and in ‘The Ivory Acrobat’ as the streets and citizens of Athens recover from the tremors of an earthquake, though in each case, universal fears are distilled through the viewpoints of one or two people. In ‘Baader-Meinhof’, the piece is more about the terror individuals inflict on each other rather than that perpetrated by organised gangs.

Observers of DeLillo’s longer fiction will attest to the severe challenges that he puts before his readers. These short fictions may seem like a convenient way for the casual browser of his previous works to force a way in, but ultimately (and this goes for his characters too) only the fittest will survive.

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