It is claimed that Delillo was influenced by Camus, and in particular L’Etranger, in writing this novella. That seems likely – the protagonist has similar traits – unwillingness to engage, loneliness, isolation – and the world view seems just as bleak. McEwan’s The Child in Time gives a thorough examination of the loss of a child, and that is one of the themes raised here, but Camus is a more interesting comparison. At one point the protagonist, attempting to communicate with a woman he has just met in an art gallery, claims, “I used to multiply numbers in my head, when I was a kid. A six digit number times a five digit number.. I was a pseudo genius”. What a chat up line. The novel begins and ends with a screening of Psycho, and Norman Bates’ relationship with his mother is evoked in the final paragraphs, and compared with the hero’s own, “in a small flat being consumed by rising towers”. Arizona – the setting of much of the book “the heartbreaking beauty of it, the indifference”. You can sense the world from this.
I’ve wanted to read Delillo for a while, and picked this up cheaply in a remaindered bookshop, completing the read on the 2 hour train journey home. To know him better I’ll need to look at others.