Novelists Don DeLillo and Richard Russo represent two strands of American literature.
DeLillo is a member of the apocalyptic/black comedy club that includes Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon and Nathaniel West.
Russo stands with those obsessed by a particular place, whose small society yields universal truths. That field has a larger membership, with Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe the primary models for others who didn't always follow the prototype, including Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others.
The categories are fluid, with writers during their careers shifting from one pole to the other. DeLillo, for example, displayed fascination with his native Bronx in his encyclopedic novel "Underworld."
The always excellent Friday Arena section in the Wall Street Journal offered feature stories on DeLillo and Russo, both of whom have new novels coming out next week. Russo will also publish a new short story collection next year.
DeLillo's "Zero K"
DeLillo, who turns 80 in November, publishes his 16h novel, "Zero K.". The book, an excerpt of which recently ran in Harper's, is a sci-fi, dystopian look at an underground complex where the terminally ill can be frozen and possibly returned to health, according to the WSJ piece.
Known earlier in his career for being nearly as reclusive as Pynchon and J.D. Salinger, DeLillo has actively promoted "Zero K," giving frequent media interviews. The WSJ reports that he recently traveled to Paris to participate in a conference on his work.
While the publication of a DeLillo novel was once a major event for me - I loved "White Noise," "Libra," "Mao II," and my favorite, "Underworld" - I've found his recent works like "Cosmopolis" and "Falling Man" too contrived. DeLillo's characters in those books seemed more like types than real people, his narratives inorganic.
Although the Harper's excerpt from "Zero K" showed some of the same defects, I'll make an effort to read "Zero K." Even when he drifts into self-parody, DeLillo remains interesting.
Russo Returns to Small Town Characters
Russo, 66, comes out next week with "Everybody's Fool," a return to his fictional small town of North Bath, N.Y. The book revisits characters from "Nobody's Fool," made into a 1994 movie starring Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis and Philip Seymour Hoffman, the WSJ reported. Some of the characters also appeared in Russo's "Empire Falls," for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002.
The fictional place is based on his hometown of Gloversville, in upstate New York. Russo examines how the town's citizens cope with its economic decline.
He also wrote a memorable memoir, "Elsewhere," about his relationship with his mother, who raised him as a single parent. His account of her economic struggles and their loyalty to each other showed the power of human endurance over large and small tragedies.
For some reason, Russo's novels based on his hometown didn't hold my interest. My favorite Russo novel is "Straight Man," a campus satire that depends upon the philosophical concept of Occam's Razor.
With many noted American male writers now dead, and Roth retired, readers are blessed that DeLillo and Russo keep working. While their writing reflects different styles and interests, each has made enduring contributions to American literature.