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Don DeLillo: Players

DeLillo is about boredom and conspiracy and the death of America, told in a witty way. But DeLillo is also about language. Pammy and Lyle Wynant are an attractive, rich, bored couple. They used to do things but now they don’t. They have done it all. Pammy works for the Grief Management Council, which served the community in its efforts to understand and assimilate grief. Lyle is a stock broker. One day he sees a man killed in the Stock Exchange by terrorists. Lyle gets involved with the terrorists but it is really all a game, just as Pammy’s affair is a game, something to relieve the boredom, something to do instead of flipping channels on the TV. And none of it really matters as they are just players, not participants.

And DeLillo does it with language. First there is the matter-of-fact style he uses in his description. Whether it is the terrorists in action or Pammy’s sexual relations, it is all told in a straightforward, passionless style, as important as Pammy’s shopping. Then there is the short staccato style, not just the characters, though they really do not seem to get beyond a sentence or two at a time, but even the descriptions. For, DeLillo is telling us, it is not just America that is slipping away, it is language itself. At the end of the book, Pammy sees the word Transients on a flophouse and cannot comprehend it. She sees its component parts but not the whole and the meaning behind the whole. Language is now no more than a façade, devoid of communication. The functional value had slipped out of its bark somehow and vanished.

Publishing history

First published 1977 by Knopf