Don DeLillo’s “Zero K” is a novel about…well, I am not really sure what it is about. Maybe it’s about death, maybe it is about the one dimensional life of a grieving outsider or maybe it is a prediction of our dystopian future brought about by war and climate change and our ultimate desire for immortality. Or may it’s about the challenges of the parent child relationship or maybe it’s about mental illness. Zero K is a book of ideas and it is a challenging read.
The story begins with Jeffrey Lockhart’s mysterious trip to an unknown part of the world and a “facility” known as Convergence. Jeffrey’s billionaire father, Russ and his second and beloved archaeologist wife, Artis, are at Convergence, preparing for Artis’s death and literal preparation for her next life. Convergence is a secretive facility in which wealthy individuals are assisted with their deaths and prepared to be brought back in better times. In some instances, as with Artis, the individuals are near death (Artis suffers from multiple sclerosis), but in some instances the individuals simply choose Convergence as a next step from this life to the next.
At Jeffrey’s first visit to Convergence he is permitted to view only certain parts of the facility. As he walks along the hallways he encounters mannequins and videos of disasters, wars, self-immolation. A speaker at the facility explained that “‘To some extent we are here in this location to design a response to whatever eventual calamity may strike the planet…At some point in the future, death will become unacceptable even as the life of the planet become more fragile.” Although no one is introduced by name at Convergence, Jeffrey feels the need to name each person he meets and place them in a different life.
While at Convergence, Jeffrey ruminates on his relationship with his father, his now deceased mother, and his father’s relationship with his mother. The one thing that is clear in the story is that Jeffrey has not stopped grieving the loss of his mother or the divorce of his father and mother. He also puzzles over the feelings and concerns parents have for their children. “A son or daughter who travels at a wayward angle must seem a penalty the parent must bear–but for what crime?”
After Artis is “contained,” Jeffrey and Russ return to New York to their lives. Russ cannot recover from his loss of Artis. Jeffrey seeks a job and spends time with his girlfriend, Emma and her adopted son, Stak. Every interaction, every thought and every emotion is one dimensional and empty. Jeffrey’s continual efforts to create substance by naming people and giving them stories only makes the life he leads feel emptier.
Don DeLillo is a truly great writer. His language is beautiful, almost poetic, and the writing in Zero K is no exception. Mr. DeLillo recently spoke at the Cuyahoga County Public Library Foundation’s William N. Skirball Writers Center Stage, where he explained that the novel took him four years to write, although it is only 275 pages long. Mr. DeLillo writes on a standard typewriter because of the physicality of the instrument and he explained the importance of language, sound and sight in his books. He was utterly charming and fascinating in his interview and his responses to questions and answers from the audience.
If you have never read any of Don DeLillo’s work, Zero K might not be the place to start. The story and the characters are tragic and unpleasant, although the book is thoughtful and thought provoking. If you are a DeLillo fan, of course, you must read Zero K. You can reserve the book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11195791__Szero%20k__P0%2C3__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold