It's May and you're looking for a good read. Look no further than Don DeLillo's newest! It comes out this Tuesday, May 3rd, and whether you love him or have never read him, this work of art is the type of book that makes you believe fiction isn't dead.
"Everybody wants to own the end of the world."
But what will the end of the world mean? What will it look like and when will it come? DeLillo wrests with these questions in his new literary landscape, Zero K.
The main plot centers around a facility for cryogenic freezing where Jeffrey's estranged (and very wealthy) father Ross has requested his presence for the death and subsequent freezing of Jeffrey's stepmom, Artis. The compound, named Convergence, is way out in the middle of nowhere Russia. It is almost cult-like in its construction—no windows anywhere, confusing passageways with only locked doors, no signs, and less than helpful people. At any moment, Jeffrey may find himself bombarded with larger than life projections of horrible videos—scenes of natural disasters or gruesome battles from modern wars—the point of which is never made clear, unless it's some sort of brainwashing to make people want to freeze themselves until a new world has arisen from the ashes of the current one. Artis is very ill and seems open to the freezing process, though it is Ross's idea.
Jeffrey can't really find a way to reconcile Convergence, but neither is he openly protesting it. He seems content enough to go along with it, taking everything in and playing mind games with himself. Jeffrey certainly isn't ready to let go of the current world, but he doesn't seem too attached to that either. He is on a precipice between now and the future, but it is a choice of the evil you know, or one that could potentially be much worse.
This is something that DeLillo has always been interested in, the human side of the rise of technology. Who we become as our machines advance and how we deal with what we've created. Something that came up again and again in Zero K was language. How language and the record of it makes us human, makes us separate from the beasts and machines. DeLillo is innately aware of the language he uses throughout the book—it is a stark landscape precisely punctuated with a specific vocabulary.
Not only that, but language takes on an important role in the book itself. Language is this important piece of identity. Who we are is conveyed through language of some form: speaking, or, increasingly in today's world, writing, especially electronically. But Jeff is cut off from all of that at Convergence. No one will talk to him and electronics certainly don't work. Personal identity slips away. And that's the point. After the cryogenically frozen people wake up in a new world, they will all speak one language, one that has not even been invented yet. This idealistic dreamscape world is one seemingly without differentiation or individuality—is that what it takes to bring peace? Or is it just another form of control?
For Artis, memory is most important, at least to her self-identity. She speaks to Jeffrey several times about her memories of seemingly inconsequential moments, but they are moments that make her who she is. Who would she be if she woke up without those memories?
Jeffrey's tie to identity has more to do with names. He is obsessed with naming people—everyone he doesn't know he tries to fit with a name that somehow encompasses their essence, and he takes it very seriously. This probably stems from the fact that his father's name, Ross Lockhart, is made-up, which means that his own, Jeffrey Lockhart, is just a thread hanging in space with no history or identity to back it up. The name-game Jeff takes on is almost Biblical, like Adam in the Garden of Eden, and I'm sure there's loads more that could be said about that!
DeLillo packs a lot into this book, and it's less than 300 pages. I've barely scratched the surface here; this would be great for a book club! If nothing else, read it for the language alone! No one crafts a sentence like DeLillo. This is true literary fiction at its finest.
Get your copy of Zero K
Check out DeLillo's other books
Find out more about the publisher, Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
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Assistant editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.