New & Notable: Don DeLillo's "Zero K"

Over the past few decades, Don DeLillo has evolved into one of the most respected writers in contemporary fiction. From his bestselling Underworld, to White Noise, to Cosmopolis, DeLillo’s novels have established themselves as harbingers of a specific kind of doom—technology, government, and more recently, cryogenics, leading the world as we know it into stranger, more apathetic territory. His latest novel Zero K functions on the same wavelength. Taking place mainly in the lawless badlands of Kyrgyzstan, DeLillo paints a picture where cryogenic technology has become a viable option for the wealthy and willing. Following narrator Jeffrey Lockhart into a compound called The Convergence where his ailing stepmother—alongside his billionaire asshole father—are about to undergo the progress of cryogenic suspension, Lockhart walks us through a world where characterization takes a backseat to background—and to backstory for that matter. 

While most novels would be smart to stay away from this perceived "show don't tell" faux pas, this specific brand of melodrama is where DeLillo’s words speak the most truth—the vulnerability of humans and the fragility of life somehow highlighted when compared to the tedious social dramas of the everyday. As the perspective of the narrative shifts halfway through to Artis (his stephmother), it becomes clear why Zero K is being hailed by many critics as his best book to emerge in the last two decades. Reading more as lines from a Beckett play rather than a traditional DeLillo story, Artis opens her chapter in cryogenic suspension with:

But am I who I was.
I think I am someone. There is someone here and I feel it in me or with me.
But where is here and how long am I here and am I only what is here.

If one thing is to be said of Zero K’s, it’s that DeLillo’s story teeters on the threshold between the real and imagined: it’s characters falling into a sci-fi space governed by philosophical questions rather than logic. And while most sci-fi does indeed pose much of the same questions, DeLillo prose does so blatantly: his decades of expertise allowing for the story to morph into something else entirely. DeLillo fan or not—this is a story to be read.

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