"The Angel Esmeralda" by Don DeLillo

I haven’t read all of Don DeLillo’s work as of yet - only three novels: Americana, Great Jones Street and The Names, all of which I loved. Recently, I came across a collection of DeLillo’s short fiction, a collection titled The Angel Esmeralda, consisting of nine short stories published between 1979 - 2011. It was a great find since I was always curious about DeLillo’s short fiction and this collection is a fine one. Although each story is completely different from one another in tone and approach, there is a thematic consistency to them. Arranged chronologically, it’s also interesting to see DeLillo’s progression: the earliest story more in the vein of his earlier work (i.e. Americana, Great Jones Street) and the latter tackling more recent topics such as terrorism, white collar crime and economic collapse. Since I haven’t read the bulk of his work as of yet, I won’t bother to try to draw comparisons to his full length work but rather look at these stories on their own, as stories.

 

Out of the nine, the stories that stood out for me were The Ivory Acrobat - about a woman who freaks out after an earthquake and subsequent aftershocks in Athens, the atmosphere is that of tension, helplessness, and paranoia; the title story, The Angel Esmeralda - concerning a group of nuns working to help the poor in late 1970s/early 1980s South Bronx while investigating a “miracle” concerning a murdered child; Baader-Meinhoff - a woman visits an exhibit of paintings of terrorists and meets a strange man who later tries to rape her at her apartment. The two incidents play off one another in a very terrifying way. Although the story itself may not be specifically about terrorism (despite it being named after the German radical left wing group of the 1970s), it most definitely plays on the feeling that terrorism evokes; Midnight In Dostoevsky - two college students invent a mythology surrounding a strange professor, raising the question if it’s better to know or to invent; and the earliest story in the collection, Creation - about a couple unable to leave a Caribbean island, told in a very sparse, minimalistic way, relying on the unsaid more than what is actually revealed in the text.

 

There is a common trait throughout each of these stories: Distance, observation from afar; disconnectedness, alienation, helplessness, conspiracy - themes common to DeLillo’s work. Overall, a highly enjoyable collection of short stories from one of America’s leading authors.

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