Classic Prose From Don Delillo’s Underworld
“It was the rooftop summer, drinks or dinner, a wedged garden with a wrought iron table that’s spored along its curved legs with oxide blight, and maybe those are old French roses climbing the chimney pot, a color called maiden’s blush, or a long terrace with a slate surface and birch trees in copper tubs and the laughter of a dozen people sounding small and precious in the night, floating over the cold soup towards skylights and domes and water tanks, or a hurry-up lunch, an old friend, beach chairs and takeout Chinese and how the snapdragons smell buttery in the sun.
This was Klara Sax’s summer at the roofline.”
Don DeLillo, Underworld, 1996
Stripped away of unnecessary ‘fluff’, no room for those adverbs that pave the way to hell, as Stephen King once opined.
DeLillo’s blend of simple description with introspection drops the reader into the scene, a silent witness, viewing and feeling the scene as the narrator sees it. Prose that bears the hallmarks of Joyce, Hemingway, and Woolf, with the added eye for detail and economy that comes from a literary apprenticeship served as copywriter among the Mad Men of 50s NYC.
A passage of simple brilliance, a ‘show, don’t tell’ masterclass, hidden within the pages of DeLillo’s Pulitzer nominated American opus.
The ‘rooftop summer’, an immeadiate image, outside, on high, warm. ‘Wedged gardens’ precious, small sanctuaries, high within a crowded city landscape; the elegant quality of wrought iron furniture, its character defined by its rust; well-worn, faded from its former glory, but loved and full of story, perhaps.
The heavy metals, the iron and copper, softened by the climbing roses, the ‘maiden’s blush’. It’s an idyll, an image that our narrator may be romanticising, looking back through nostalgic eyes at a time made more glorious through the passing years.
’Maybe they’re French roses’ (maybe, perhaps, not?).
It was lunch, it was night, it was drinking soup, eating Chinese food. The cascade of fractured memory, pieced together, bridging fiction and truth.
Remembering that time, the warmth, a setting sun on an angular skyline, laughter, the smell of buttery snapdragons.
A time that was over too soon, unreliably, romantically recalled: forever ‘precious in the night, floating…’
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