Point Omega

Don DeLillo

Point Omega
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Point Omega

Don DeLillo

In the middle of a desert somewhere south of nowhere, to a forlorn house made of metal and clapboard, a secret war advisor has gone in search of space and time. Richard Elster, 73, was a scholar – an outsider – when he was called to a meeting with government war planners. They asked Elster to conceptualise their efforts – to form an intellectual framework for their troop deployments, counterinsurgency, orders for rendition. For two years he read their classified documents and attended secret meetings. He was to map the reality these men were trying to create. Bulk and swagger, he called it.

At the end of his service, Elster retreats to the desert, where he is joined by a young filmmaker intent on documenting his experience. Jim Finley wants to make a one-take film, Elster its single character – Just a man against a wall.

The two men sit on the deck, drinking and talking. Finley makes the case for his film. Weeks go by. And then Elster’s daughter Jessie visits – an otherworldly woman from New York – who dramatically alters the dynamic of the story. When a devastating event follows, all the men’s talk, the accumulated meaning of conversation and isolation, is thrown into question. What is left is loss, fierce and incomprehensible. Point Omega is a deeply unnerving and brilliant work from one of our greatest living writers.

Review

Fans of DeLillo, which are justifiably legion, have grown accustomed now to somewhat slender volumes since 1997’s mammoth Underworld. Point Omega finds DeLillo more pared-back than ever, creating an atmosphere both claustrophobic and redolent with possibility.

We begin with an art installation at MOMA showing Hitchcock’s Psycho film in such slow motion that it takes 24 hours to run, completely entrancing Elster, a man who visits daily to watch, to apprehend the world anew in ‘slow time’. That he normally spends much of his time at a shack deep in the American desert regions comes then as no surprise – he is clearly on a quest for metaphysical underpinnings. That Elster was in a former life a ‘war philosopher’, a principal adviser to the US forces in its conduct of the Iraq war, reminds us of more familiar DeLillo territory, and most of the book revolves around a visit by a filmmaker, Finley, who wants to convince him to do an unedited interview with him about this period.

Finley intends staying only a couple of days, but soon finds his stay at the ranch extending for weeks, with their conversation turning to a favourite trope of our retired military-analyst-cum-philosopher: an auto-da-fe of consciousness, a point at which it lapses in favour of a new, ‘higher’ state – the ‘omega point’ of the title. With the arrival of Elster’s daughter Jessie at the ranch, however, the quotidian returns in ways neither expect. Classic then (albeit rather minimalist perhaps!) DeLillo! 

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