Cosmopolis: Don DeLillo’s Societal Critique Is Robert Pattinson’s Screen Time
For the last year, you've probably been overwhelmed by certain repeated words and phrases -- recession, protest, health care reform, Occupy Wall Street and the 99 Percent -- which will, when you pick up Don DeLillo's novel Cosmopolis, give everything a familiar ring. Though set in the year 2000, DeLillo was ahead of his time, capturing the ambiance of a lost generation facing political and economic issues similar to those we're grappling with today.
Eric Packer is a twenty-eight-year-old billionaire, with a penchant for technology, etymology, and business. He owns a forty-three-room apartment (complete with shark tank and personal elevators); a Russian bomber jet; and a white, bulletproofed limo with cork-lining, marble floors, and the most advanced screens and monitors. Quite certainly, he is a man with endless options. Yet, strangely enough, throughout the novel, it's a markedly simpler option that eludes him: a haircut.
His trip to the barbershop is plagued. Packer's limo is forever stuck in Manhattan traffic and he constantly detours to meet with his finance adviser, his doctor, his wife. To make matters worse: As Packer's limo inches along, the Japanese yen threatens to sink his investments; two influential businessmen are assassinated; then, finally, Packer's bodyguard informs him that a "credible threat" has been made against Packer's own life.
This credible threat is made by Benno Levin, a disturbed former employee, who once worked for Packer's firm doing currency analysis on the baht, until he could no longer keep up with the work and quit. Now unemployed, obsessed with his old boss, and living in an abandoned building, he believes there's only one way to give meaning to his life: He must kill Eric Packer.
Cosmopolis is a novel of ideas, full of musings on today's fast-moving, gadget-obsessed society. It has a certain allegorical and satirical feel to it; the characters are stand-ins, more representative of ideas than particular individuals, and DeLillo's objective, deadpan style often evokes black humor from, or at the expense of, its protagonist, leaving you with both a laugh and a critique.
Don DeLillo has received many awards for his fiction, including the National Book Award (White Noise), PEN/Faulkner Award (Mao II), and the American Book Award (Underworld). A movie adaptation of Cosmopolis is out in theaters now.
Want a peek at what Paul Giamatti thinks of adaptations, Don DeLillo and more? Read an interview with him.