By Don DeLillo
One April day in 2000, Eric Packer, a 28-year-old billionaire asset manager, steps out of his 48-room apartment in the tallest residential building in New York City, determined to travel cross-town for a haircut. Undeterred by traffic that "speaks in quarter inches," Eric conducts business meetings and even receives a medical exam in his limo, refusing at all costs to abandon his course – a course stalled intermittently by a presidential motorcade, a rap star’s funeral, a violent and ambiguously socialist protest, a movie set, a pie-hurling stalker, and various sexual trysts. Eric, highly intelligent, selfish, and self-obsessed, experiences most of these events dispassionately. To him, other people are merely functions to be manipulated like he manipulates numbers, gathered as he gathers information – there for amusement, advice, spiritual guidance, and sex. Potential subplots flicker in and out, but they are hollow distractions; even the climax is a side story, weak and unemotional. One senses that even DeLillo is unaware of what Eric will do next, allowing his main character to determine the action – an appropriate arrangement, since Eric is more interested in his story than he is in being alive. The young billionaire’s journey across town is also a pilgrimage, an homage to his father’s tenement roots, and a possibility to find meaning in the Cosmopolis world of numbers, charts, and endlessly streaming ones and zeros. But this is not a story of redemption. Nor is it a novel for readers seeking depth of character or a neat plot. Told through staccato conversation and lyrical prose, Cosmopolis is a bleak commentary on wealth, society, and humanity – and on hurling oneself toward death in an attempt to escape it. It is smart, absurd, and often funny: pure DeLillo. Alison Case
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