Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

I only have ice for you

Zero KZero K by Don DeLillo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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?


8 comments on “I only have ice for you

  1. Priscilla
    September 19, 2017

    What interesting questions regarding the uber rich freezing themselves and also prior-living people sucking up resources in the future. My geeky husband and I often talk about strange things like this. I can’t wait for our dinner conversation tonight!

    • Kevin Brennan
      September 19, 2017

      Yes! That book is so full of food for thought that it makes a whole four-course meal. 😉

  2. pinklightsabre
    September 19, 2017

    I felt that kind of icy distance in his book about 9/11, the characters. I didn’t connect with them, no warmth. I felt real compassion/love for his characters in White Noise, however.

    • Kevin Brennan
      September 20, 2017

      I need to read White Noise again. That’s the one that got me onto DDL originally. Feels like we’re always one step away from another airborne toxic event, eh?

      • pinklightsabre
        September 20, 2017

        I began rereading but stalled out. That one blew my mind the first time. Sometimes it’s a one and done deal though for the mind-blowing.

  3. 1WriteWay
    September 24, 2017

    I haven’t read any of DeLillo’s work and I don’t think this is going on my list. Whenever I hear that the main characters are rich as hell and so the only reason we can have this novel is because only the rich can afford whatever it being discussed, I blink and move on. I’m feeling a real antipathy toward the “rich as hell” class these days 😉

    • Kevin Brennan
      September 24, 2017

      I’m the same way, and I think DeLillo has been mining the rich crowd for a while. Not sure, since I hadn’t read anything of his since Underworld. But I’d advise him to find some new vein to explore.

      • 1WriteWay
        September 24, 2017

        Indeed, once upon a time the lives of the rich might have been interesting even to lower middling class people like myself. Now, not so much.

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This entry was posted on September 19, 2017 by in Writing and tagged , , .
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