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Don DeLillo: Americana

DeLillo’s first novel reads like a first novel. DeLillo himself has said that he was “hurling things at the page”. The story is of David Bell, a former New York TV executive, who is now living on a remote island and writing from the year 1999. He had travelled across the USA, filming his journeys as he went. Sitting, alone on his island, having escaped from everything, he looks back. As a TV executive, Bell was concerned with image and here is one of DeLillo’s (and 20th century literature’s) important themes – that of perception versus reality. TV, advertising, sex, sports – all are used by DeLillo to show us that in 20th century America, image is all, reality nothing. Bell’s life as a TV executive is empty and vapid. He is divorced, picks up girls in bars and lives in the same building as his ex-wife. So he travels across the country, filming it as he goes, meeting, as people do in American road novels, an assortment of interesting and demented characters. Some fictional characters discover themselves when travelling across the country. Bell does not; rather he loses himself or seeks to do so on his remote island. Looking back, however, he realises that he has not become the philosopher he thought he might, merely trite.

Publishing history

First published 1971 by Houghton Mifflin