Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
What do you imagine you’d get if Don DeLillo took up the subject of cryopreservation?
You don’t have to imagine anymore. Now we know you’d get Zero K, a genuine enigma of a novel that depicts one man’s attempt to understand his father’s desire to live, along with his dear second wife, forever.
The problem with cryopreservation, of course, is that when they freeze you, you don’t know when or if you’ll ever wake up. And when you mix in the possibility of going through the procedure when you’re not even sick yet, the ethics of the whole thing get really sticky.
DeLillo tackles the matter with the iciest of prose, which seems appropriate considering the material. But all three main characters are distant, almost transparent automata. The family is rich as hell, which opens up the possibility of cryopreservation in the first place. The rest of us could never even afford to travel to this remote Siberian underworld (winking at another DeLillo novel) – a super-advanced facility put together by a pair of mad, rich Scandinavians, if I’m recalling correctly. They seem like they’re from a 1980s music video. Gary Numan? They’ve turned the facility into something of an art installation too, with strange filmed scenes showing on screens that come and go, and whispery silent automatic doors. There’s a weird sort of elevator/escalator that’s hard to imagine, but it seems to work just fine taking our protagonist deep into the subterranean levels where the freezing takes place and the bodies are warehoused. Sex is provided like room service on one occasion. It’s nice to have amenities.
Anyway, this novel isn’t really about cryopreservation. It’s more about the philosophical problems that surround mortality, the meaning of living forever, the injustice of untimely death, and the stigma that may attach in the future world to those showing up from the past to suck up resources. It gets complicated. Tricky too, the idea that the wealthy feel somehow entitled to immortality. The übermensch lives, and lives, and lives ….
Zero K is not a book everyone will appreciate, and it’s definitely not DeLillo’s best. Look at the Amazon ratings and note that each star level gets about one-fifth of the readership. How often does that happen?
I’ve been following DeLillo for a long time now, but this book made me wonder – as much as I liked what he set out to do here – who the hell is this guy hanging with these days?