Paperback: The Body Artist by Don DeLillo

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Compared with his previous production, the rollicking post-war panorama Underworld, DeLillo's latest novel is an altogether simpler meditation on love and loss and the impact of a sudden death on a stumbling marriage.

The novel opens at breakfast time in a rented house by the sea. Thirty-six year old Lauren Hartke, the body artist of the title, is preparing – although she doesn't know it – what is to be her husband's last meal. Losing herself in the domestic round (rinsing the blueberries, brewing the coffee) Lauren knows she is "hyper-prepared, or haywire, or hair-trigger", although unaware of the tragedy to come. A few hours later, Rey Robles, the thrice-married film director, will drive to his first wife's apartment and shoot himself in the head.

What follows is Lauren's attempts to re-enter the world after her husband's death. Exfoliating her skin to an inch of the bone, cutting her hair, performing her yogic stretches, she tries to recapture her old self, but instead finds herself in delusional conversation with a ghostly house-guest in boy-sized underwear who seems to have taken up residence in a bedroom. What significance should be read into the baby Y-fronts is unclear, but DeLillo's views on bereavement and grief are all too plain: "I'm Lauren," thinks the girl in the last chapter. "But less and less."