October 13th, 2020 / 9:50 am

Delillo is Dad

On the morning of 9/11 I ate buttered toast at the kitchen bar of my dad’s house while we all watched the smoking tower on network news. I asked my dad what was happening and he frowned and shrugged and said he didn’t know. On the drive to school we listened to country music, and at school some of my teachers had wheeled out TVs for us to watch and they said things like “oh my god” and that the world would never be the same.

I’ve noticed people like to use the word ‘corny’ now, when talking about writing that’s straightforward or sincere, that lacks a kind of technical obscurity or contains information that might be useful to people who didn’t grow up with stuffed bookshelves in a study. Writing that feels fitted to the time we live in, in which events, if they are to be remembered as events at all, need to swell like orchestral music in time with some grander narrative that everyone can see. A story gets slotted into memory tissue that way, at the expense of skepticism for the books that generate collective feeling, or that try giving a name to the panic and dread beneath the products and vacations and posts.

Don Delillo was the first adult that ever spoke to me about what television was really doing, and why I had these scattered image-thoughts, and what really happened to our nuclear waste, and the perfectly American violence of organized sports, and the danger of where it was all headed. My own dad dropped us off at school that Tuesday and went back to work in the woods with his dad, my grandfather, who once drove a massive wooden peanut on a flatbed truck to Jimmy Carter’s White House to protest the designation of old growth redwood forest as protected land, out of reach of local loggers like them.

A lot of people in America still think the American Dream is something real and attainable, that they won’t have to trade their sanity or literal life to get close to it. They don’t wonder about nuclear fallout or how screens, clearly and inarguably, are making us all insane. They love to watch football, except for the national anthem part (now). They think we were justified in invading Iraq. They have kids, and this is what they teach their kids, and if the kids are lucky then one day they find Don Delillo, who tells them something else.

I get the urge to tear down the massive Macy’s Day Parade balloon of Don Delillo, shadowing as he does for writers of novels and stories the whole landscape of post-war America because he wrote about the psychotic malaise of NYC creative directors way back in 1971. I get that White Noise only really hits before you turn 23, and I agree that you can’t say he’s your favorite living novelist, even though he is mine. But why do we dunk, really?

Maybe we dunk not what we fail to understand, but what we understand too easily. I don’t think it’s corny to point out a hot plate to a child, to mouth the word hot, and to suggest we don’t touch. I’m okay with Delillo making millions off of this, and receiving awards for it, and I’ll happily exchange his lack of intimacy for some thoughtful takes on what the fuck is going on, delivered by a person who insists, strictly, on using a landline. I’m grateful to him for delivering his lectures from a distance, which is what a dad should do. And personally, I look forward to reading whatever vision he has for the day our screens collectively and finally go out. 

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