Readers and critics often laud Don DeLillo for the precision and finesse of his dialogue, for his ear for American vernacular and eye for the minutiae of moments, for the engaging eloquence of his prose that is as mellifluous as it is taut. DeLillo indeed merits all such praise, and in spades. And The Angel Esmeralda, a new collection of nine of his short stories, evidences at least nine times over the greater why of his deserved acclaim.
Representing about half of the author’s published stories to date, and divided into three sections arching from 1979 to 2011, these are tales of communication and miscommunication. Through the multiple vocalities ever-present in DeLillo’s prose—the layers of speech and speakers entangling characters in readings and rereadings of one another, of the locutions they emit or embody—these narratives are structured to probe and seduce. Narrators narrate, as do those who are narrated; external dialogues wax internally as well; memes however encountered become near-truths recounted; machinations of the mind tend toward the semantics of thought. In “Human Moments in World War III,” set in outer space and full of voices real, “enhanced,” “selective” and spectral, the narrator considers conversation with his mission mate a “danger,” preferring that words “cling to a darkness in the deepest interior.” In “Baader Meinhof,” a woman frozen in terror by the advances of a near stranger is quick to read, with dreadful precision, “the information contained in his look… her and the bed.” And in “Hammer and Sickle,” in which one reads that “the news exists so it can disappear,” a man in a white collar prison becomes obsessed, along with his fellow inmates, by a “crazy,” or not, TV program: a stock market report for kids hosted by his ten- and twelve-year-old daughters and scripted, no less, by their mother.
For seasoned lovers of DeLillo’s expansive sapience and firm grip on gravitas, for fans of his seemingly limitless strata of dialogic possibilities, this collection of variably narrated voids and figures of veneration will satisfy absolutely. For those who have read just one or two of his novels, it might well be the nudging factor to more thoroughly explore his oeuvre. It is a collection to be read, reread and devoured, and it acts quite similarly upon itself: the opening story, “Creation,” features a man and two women dangling listlessly in the negative spaces of intimacy between passion’s nascent and spent extremes; while the closing story, “The Starveling,” features two women and a man and nearly no love at all, merely three detached figures nourishing themselves with imagined meanings of the silhouettes of others. Sounding another apparitional note, “The Angel Esmeralda,” deep in the collection’s guts, weeps and roars the visceral prayers and noises of a forsaken swath of “bottommost Bronx.” In this devastating story where nuns rendezvous regularly with graffiti gangsters in the interests of charity, and where tragedy leads a certain Sister Grace to ask, and quite plausibly, “‘Who do I kill?’” the greater gravities of grim realities quake foundations as well as firmaments.