Darkness in the desert
An omega point, as defined by philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, is the supreme point of complexity and consciousness to which the universe is always striving. It is curious, then, that the postmodernist master Don DeLillo chooses this as the title of his very succinct latest work, clocking in at only 128 pages and seemingly, at first glance, less sweeping in scope than his previous novels. But, as one might expect from DeLillo, this sparse, beautifully crafted modern fable packs a solid punch.
Bookended by haunting scenes of a museum exhibit that has stretched Hitchcock’s Psycho to a full 24 hours,the novel focuses on Richard Elster, a curmudgeonly former war strategist who has retreated to a remote California desert. He is joined by Jim Finley, a young filmmaker escaping his own demons back East, who is intent on making a bare-bones, one-take documentary of Elster. As the visit stretches on, the pair engages in typical DeLillo-esque intellectual banter—tackling death, war, art, etc. Soon, Elster’s grown daughter Jessie shows up, exiled from New York in the hopes that she’ll escape an unwelcome suitor, and the trio forms an awkward but strangely functional family, sharing space, omelet dinners and the strange, beautiful desert that surrounds them. This is, of course, the calm before the storm.
DeLillo’s latest novel is also his most human—his characters are strikingly emotional, particularly in times of profound stress. When tragedy strikes Elster’s family, he—the scholar—crumbles, making almost obsolete the preceding intellectualizing. It is fitting, then, that DeLillo has inverted Teilhard de Chardin’s term for his title. Elster’s desert compound is perhaps the antithesis of the most complex point of consciousness to which the modern world strives, but within it lies something deeper and all the more harrowing.
Rebecca Shapiro is an assistant editor at the Random House Publishing Group.