The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories

“I stood and looked, I was always looking.” Don DeLillo

A bleak, threatening, sometimes menacing mood hangs over each of the short stories in Don DeLillo’s The Angel Esmeralda. There is no joy in any of them, even in “Creation,” a romantic tale of three tourists in a remote Caribbean village who are trying to find a flight back home.

In looking at a painting, we are often invited to make up a story. Several of the characters in DeLillo’s collection do this during their daily comings and goings. Perhaps everyone does. “…we walked across the overpass. I wondered again, who these people were, the drivers and passengers, so many cars, the pressing nature of their passage, the lives inside.”

In “The Starveling” DeLillo depicts a lonely, middle-aged man who spends his time going to movies throughout the day--one in the morning, another after lunch, sometimes two, and then one more in the evening. He notices a woman in the theater who also appears to be an ardent moviegoer.

Thereafter he sees her at each of the performances he attends and begins following her. He creates a story: “…she was a person who lived within herself, remote, elusive, whatever else…lives alone, in one room, as he did.”

In “Midnight in Dostoyevsky” two students spend their time walking about the wintery northern town where their college is located. They engage in verbal battles over whatever they see. It is the core of their friendship. “Even in matters of pure physical reality, we depended on a friction between our basic faculties of sensation, his and mine…”

They begin noticing a man who seems to be walking nearby at the same time as they are. He is wearing a heavy coat. Is it a parka or an anorak? Or something else? They debate the matter, never coming to an agreement. Who is the man in the parka or the anorak? Elaborate stories are constructed. Their disagreement does not end peaceably.

There is a rhythm, a momentum to the nine stories that is hurried, as if you, or the writer, or character or someone else are on an underground subway heading somewhere rapidly.

A passage from “Human Movements in World War III” where two astronauts are circling the earth, drifting about in space observing various wars and other catastrophes:

People had hoped to be caught up in something bigger than themselves. They thought it would be a shared crisis. They would feel a sense of shared purpose, shared destiny. Like a snowstorm that blankets a large city—but lasting months, lasting years, carrying everyone along, creating fellow feeling where there was only suspicion and fear. Strangers talking to each other, meals by candlelight when the power fails. The war would ennoble everything we say and do. What was impersonal would become personal. What was solitary would be shared.

Great fun, these stories. Large truths. Colorless. Grim realities. Their mood is both hypnotic and infectious.