At the moment I’m reading Underworld by Don DeLillo, and while I’ve got about 3/8ths left to go I’m pretty sure it may be the best book I’ve ever read. It’s also (literally) the biggest book I’ve tackled since Infinite Jest, and like that tome it’s one I’m recommending to all and sundry. Underworld is a sprawling epic I can’t begin to summarise but basically it’s a gorgeous exploration of the idea that everything is connected. It’s a love song to America and particularly New York, and flirts with worlds and characters as discrete as a 1950s baseball game, the rise of graffiti writers, the faceless scientists working on nuclear weapons, childhood chess prodigies, juvenile delinquents, serial killers, art world luminaries and obsessive nostalgists. Like Infinite Jest, it gradually weaves seemingly unrelated threads into an incredible fabric. And all with a playful dexterity and sheer joy of language, reviving dead words and birthing new ones. It’s the kind of writing that makes me glad to be alive. And it’s simultaneously sharpening and sating my longing for New York. Here’s one of many passages I had to dog ear, that evokes Manhattan’s overhead mysteries and summer drama so viscerally:
This was Klara Sax’s summer at the roofline. She found a hidden city above the grid of fever streets. Walk and Dont Walk. Ten million bobbing heads that ride above the tideline of taxi stripes, all brain-waved differently, and yes the street abounds in idiosyncrasy, in the human veer, but you have to go to roof level to see the thing distinct, preserved in masonry and brass. She looked across the crowded sky of ventilators and antennas and suddenly there’s a quirk, some unaccountable gesture that isolates itself. Angels with butterfly wings tucked under a cornice on Bleecker Street. Or the mystery of a white clapboard cottage on the roof of an office building. Or the odd deco heads, sort of Easter Islandish, attached to the corners of a midtown tower. She found these things encouraging, dozens such that hung unauthored, with bridge cables in the distance and occasional booming skies, the false storms of summer.