DeLillo, Don (Vol. 10)
[With dialogue that gives] homage to the vapid ironies of Beckett and Pinter,… Don DeLillo's remarkable new novel of menace and mystery, Players, [is] a fastidious rejection of the modern age. (p. G1)
The book opens with an allegorical prelude DeLillo calls "The Movie," which collects all the story's principal characters, none of them named yet, on an airplane, watching a movie of a band of terrorists slaughtering several golfers on a fairway, a vicious scence accompanied by tinkly piano music suitable for a Buster Keaton movie. The contrast of blood and piano steeps the scene in "gruesomely humorous ambiguity, a spectacle of ridiculous people doing awful things to total fools."
When the scene ends we are thrown into the real story—Lyle's and Pammy's empty lives—and the book threatens to become another witty send-up of hard-core sophistication. But … while Lyle is seducing a secretary from the office, he sees in her apartment a photo of her with a man who was recently shot on the stock exchange floor. Also in the photo is the man who shot him. The story instantly assumes a tantalizing new dimension in keeping with the prologue….
DeLillo is a spectacular talent, supremely witty and a natural story-teller. (He has written four other novels: Americana, his first, End Zone, Great Jones Street, and Ratner's Star.) From his first book it was also clear that his control of the language was of a high order. The difference between that first book and the latest is what he leaves out. Players is half the size of Americana, but just as dense with implication of the meaning of the lives it presents to us.
Lyle and Pammy are hastily defined, sketches really. But unforgettable sketches, like Lautrec's. How did they get the way they are? Who cares? There they are. Dig them. The entropy of bumblebees. And the flowers are all poison. (p. G4)
William Kennedy, "The Flowers Are All Poison," in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), August 21, 1977, pp. G1, G4.
Players is a fascinating little subtracting machine, a precision calculator of spiritual entropy. Like Renata Adler's Speedboat, DeLillo's novel is a New York book—sets by The New Yorker, people by Barthelme, fears by the Daily News….
What makes this familiar material fascinating is DeLillo's dual perspective: he is a sensor inside the characters and a distant scientist converting signals into information. While Lyle and Pammy process (and reduce) a world they're trying to enlarge with adventure, DeLillo decodes both actions. The prose knows how experience turns into abstraction and how people become channels, how plot fades to probabilities and place empties into space, how little becomes less. DeLillo isn't writing sociology or satire, but the equations for what one character calls "the sensual pleasures of banality." His is no easy investigation, yet Players is both original and final, a new formula for the familiar. (p. 32)
Thomas LeClair, in Saturday Review (© 1977 by Saturday Review Magazine Corp.; reprinted with permission), September 3, 1977.
Terrorism, one always assumed, springs from perverted idealism or protest overstepping rational bounds, and explodes under intolerable political pressures or its own heavy rhetoric. Recently, though, a third element has become discernible: Terrorism is now the stuff of diversion, merely another means of experimenting with "the uses of boredom."
The phenomenon is explored in Don DeLillo's fine new novel, Players. Lyle, apparently the perfect young stockbroker, is competent, smooth, happily married, on top of his part of the New York scene. But inside he harbors hostility, dissatisfaction and a crippling ennui. Sitting alone at night, he watches television for hours, switching channels every few seconds so that only the picture burns into his indifferent brain. Like David Bell, the hero of DeLillo's first novel, Americana, he is moved solely "by the power of the image" and suffers from a numbness of mind and soul that tinges the book with a quality of things that are sighted but not seen.
Through a sexual liaison with a colleague's secretary, Lyle gets involved with a terrorist organization bent on blowing up the New York Stock Exchange. This escape is typical of DeLillo's work; it is a journey into self-exile, a need to drop out just to see what it is like to challenge a self not held in the highest esteem. Lyle decides to exacerbate complexity by playing the double agent.
His wife Pammy, a staff writer for a...
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Don DeLillo seems determined to nail modern America down, and he may yet. His previous novels have tackled football ("End Zone"), pop music ("Great Jones Street"), and science ("Ratner's Star"), and in "Players" … he takes on terrorism. Terrorism of an attenuated, urbane sort; the book is really about sophistication, or at least nothing is as clear about it as the sophistication of the author, who combines a wearily thorough awareness of how people pass their bored-silly lives in New York City with a (in this novel) lean, slit-eyed prose and a pseudo-scientific descriptive manner….
[The] drastic unlovableness of Lyle and the very tepid appeal of Pammy discourage the considerable suspension of disbelief necessary to follow them into their adventures as they break loose from connubial anti-bliss. (p. 127)
Don DeLillo has, as they used to say of athletes, class. He is original, versatile, and, in his disdain of last year's emotional guarantees, fastidious. He brings to human phenomena the dispassionate mathematics and spatial subtleties of particle physics. Into our technology-riddled daily lives he reads the sinister ambiguities, the floating ugliness of America's recent history…. But the very intensity of Mr. DeLillo's wish, in this novel, to say something new about the matter has evaporated the matter, leaving behind an exquisite ash-skeleton of elliptic dialogue and spindly motivation. (p. 128)
John Updike, in The New Yorker (© 1978 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), March 27, 1978.