Don DeLillo’s “Point Omega” is an alternative novel. At 117 pages, it’s the idea of a novel. We are not in Dickensland. The book’s structure, or frame, is divided into a story of four chapters, with a kind of foreword that tells a different story not completed until the afterword – so six parts. We are told it’s summer falling in 2006, on a separate title page, as if a sub-title – thanks for the clue. Then comes the foreword. That’s my term, to be clear. The text titles this section “Anonymity,” with a date, as if it’s a letter, “September 3.” The afterword is titled “Anonymity 2,” and is dated “September 4.”
The Anonymity sections are written in the third person, and describe a person watching an art museum exhibit that is a modified movie from the film canon (no spoiling here). One of the themes of the book is watching, watching and waiting. The narrator of “Anonymity” describes those watching, but says the watcher is unwatched, but this is not true. The narrator is watching the watcher, and the reader is watching the narrator. And, if the reader happens to be reading “Point Omega” on the bus, in the library, at a coffee shop, yet another character might presumably be watching the reader. In any case, this idea, or theme, of one watching another is part of the idea of the novel, if not the novel. Another theme is film. We are told, still in “Anonymity,” that “film…is solitary” (9). But this is not true, either. Film is audience. Books are solitary (the Internet is audience without seats, no fixed position, the screen everywhere, no front or rear of the theatre, no theatre).
The next sections of “Point Omega,” beginning on page 17, are numbered 1 though 4. These sections are told in the first person, and take place in the desert, inland from San Diego, where the narrator has travelled to visit an older man with Iraq War planning and consulting experience. The narrator wants to film the expert talking about his thoughts on the war. One of the themes of DeLillo’s book is how to tell a story, an idea that might begin with Poe, but once a story is told, it is subject to retelling. One version of retelling is the elongated film that is the exhibit in the “Anonymity” sections. The middle four sections take place over a month, so the connection in time to the two days of the “Anonymity” sections is ambiguous. How long a story should be is another theme of “Point Omega,” and when I got to the fly scene in the desert toward the end of the fourth section, I felt a tinge of relief that I had not long to go. Yet the fly in the desert appears to have been a foil detail.
There is a counter view built-in that appears in “Anonymity 2.” Maybe the tale is not a detective story in the Poe tradition but a comedy, a comedy in the way that “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” can’t be taken seriously, yet some sublimation is surely going on in its audience. In any case, there is a bit of comic relief toward the end of “Point Omega,” in the dialog, but it’s soon dismissed.
The writing in “Point Omega” creates a Poe-like atmosphere, particularly in the desert scenes, that is portentous. What might prevent the portentousness from becoming pretentious is the dejection of the characters, a dying man unable to reconcile his complicity in an irresolute war, a frustrated want-to-be film director, a type, and a possibly demented character about whom we know almost nothing. There are three men and three women who appear with significant speaking roles. The themes include appearance and disappearance, as in film, and one of the disappearances is into film, into character, and the uneasy experience of things slowing to a crawl, a distortion of real time that is not quite the call for suspension of belief or judgment we are asked for in the traditional novel. “Point Omega” might also be likened to a kind of film script, the novel ready-made to be made into a film, stripped of its thick traditions and conventions, ready for the camera. One can see it as a Hitchcockian exercise, reading as loss, as lost time, as we try to lose ourselves in the story of another.