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Interview: Don DeLillo

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Photo by Thousandrobots.

Last November marked the publication of Don DeLillo’s first story collection, The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories. These short fictions range from earthquake-ridden Greece to outer space, a white-collar prison and the streets of the South Bronx. ‘The Starveling’, which appears in Granta’s Horror issue, paints a haunting portrait of obsessive moviegoers in Manhattan. Here, DeLillo answers a few questions about the story and his new book for Granta’s Yuka Igarashi.

YI: The Angel Esmeralda collects your short stories from the 1970s until 2011 and can be seen as a primer into the recurring and evolving themes of your work. Do you think it is representative of your four decades of writing?

DD: The short story and the novel are so different in conception and execution that I don’t think it is possible to consider a writer’s work over four decades by examining the stories alone. The stories are representative of one slice of mind. The novels are mind, body, day and night, and what I ate for lunch.

Your latest story and the last in the book is ‘The Starveling’. It is included in our Horror issue and is about a man who spends all his days at the movies, crisscrossing New York and going from theatre to theatre. The story has a quiet surface but there is an incredible underlying tension and menace in it. Is there horror in this story, or in your other stories?

‘The Starveling’ is about an incomplete man and his acquiescence to a static life. The man’s refuge is the movies and in the minute-by-minute countdown of his days and weeks, there may be an element of horror; to the man himself, however, there is only the day’s schedule, and an abiding sense of being safe.

I read a conversation between you and Bret Easton Ellis in The Believer in which you talked about how you got started as a writer. You said something about quitting your job in advertising because you wanted to go to the movies. Obsessive moviegoers appear in your other work (Point Omega, for example). I couldn’t help wondering if there was an autobiographical element to the character in ‘The Starveling’.

Don’t believe what you read in interviews. (With the exception of this one.) There is no trace of my personal moviegoing experience in ‘The Starveling’.

Your collection often concerns people in trances, in states of repetition or fixation: astronauts orbiting the earth, a guy running laps in the park, a woman visiting and revisiting an art gallery. In ‘The Starveling’ there is this line: ‘There is a kind of uneventfulness that resembles meditation.’ Are these characters meditating? Why are you drawn to write of these trance states?

These characters are not detached from their surroundings; they’re not in a trance, they’re simply complying with the pattern of their lives, which (like all lives) entails frequent repetition with elements, at times, of obsession. The writer wants to find the pattern and transform it into something revealing or enlightening. ■

The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories is published by Scribner in the US and Picador in the UK. Click here to listen to Don DeLillo read from his story and discuss his work with Paul Auster and John Freeman.

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