Don DeLillo's novel Mao ll shows the writer at the height of his powers, a novel that highlights an individuals experience of seeing the coherence of his belief system erode and chip apart as forces, historical and economic, invade that area of life that had seemed safe for so long. Potent writing, one of those characters is a reclusive Pynchon (or DeLillo) stand -in whose absence of new work or public appearance has created a presence larger than literary reputation alone could manage: if we talk about the speed at which disparate events suddenly seem to converge and become linked through the slimmest of resemblances, this is the novel to start with. This DeLillo at his championship best--he is superb at amassing the telling details his characters surround themselves in a secure themselves with. Likewise, he effectively conveys how intervening events readily dismantle a homemade cosmology.
The novel's fabled author, sensing that he is nearing the end of his creative potency, agrees to come is seclusion to participate in a large public reading to support an obscure poet who has been abducted by terrorists ; he emerges from the world of the secluded artist who has control of his creativity and the consequences of his choices and reenters the world he withdrew from, the world he nominal takes his inspiration from, and is subject again to the ebb and flow of events he assumed he finally understood through a career of fictionalizing it. DeLillo here does some of the best writing I've come across about the practice of writing, or rather, the rituals of writing; the novelist is working on an eagerly anticipated novel that will place his long career in perspective, but the reader witnesses isn't a conclusion being achieved, but rather stalling.
There are revisions, a retyping of notes, editorial changes, alterations of format, more research to do, more cross-indexing to be done before the manuscript can be submitted to the publisher and the judgment of history. Death, of course, is easily detected presence here, hanging over the composing and collating procedures like some cloud threatening to rain, but DeLillo defers reference to the inevitability and concentrates instead on the intensity of the busy work the novelist and his assistant engage in during their work sessions; there is a focus on the details of narrative and the word choices that serve as background noise, a loud music of a kind that keeps the lurking notion that there are no more words to come after this book is completed and out of his hands. Getting started again, becoming interested in a new idea to the degree that one is willing to subject themselves to another span of time of research, writing, and revision. Mailer had commented while he was writing his final novel The Castle in the Forest that he was "...going to finish this novel, or it's going to finish me," summarizing perfectly the process of writing as an activity that requires every resource one has to commit to a book they think needs to be written.
One does feel used up and empty after the last correction is made and the manuscript is shipped out; the prospect of starting over again for the next book is daunting, and the idea of starting a new work late in life, admitting the possibility that one might die before the work is done is a frightening prospect. One does not want to be found in the midst of their unfinished business, whatever it might be. The stalling tactics of DeLillo's fictional novelist become understandable: delay the completion of the book, extend the length of one's life. The question, though, is whether the quality of life, on those conditions, rises above being a kind of stasis-defined Limbo. Is a life predicated on the non-engagement of one's creative instinct worth sticking around for?