Having LOVED the awesome Underworld, I was sure that one moment of clarity was a fluke and that I’d dislike the rest of DiLillo’s non Underworld books. After all I wasn’t too keen on ‘Falling Man’ or ‘White Noise’ . To my surprise I enjoyed Mao II as much as Underworld.
Mao II plays out like an early Simpson’s episode. At first there’s an introduction which makes you think that the rest of the book will focus on the certain topic but then halfway through the novel, the real plot emerges and you find out that DeLillo was leaving some breadcrumbs in order to keep us on track but not really know when the true story emerges.
Since DeLillo’s books focus more on current topics, the main points of Mao II are about the power of crowds, terrorist movements, Photography as an art form and the power of a writer. Oddly enough for a book that was written in 1992 it is strangely ahead of its time as some of the scenes of the book would eventually materialise nine years later during the September 11th attacks.
Bill Grey is a recluse writer who is constantly rewriting his manuscript. He is approached by his agent in order to help free an imprisoned writer in Beirut and through this process he learns that the writer has the power to move crowds just as forcefully as any terrorist leader.
I would say that is the main focus of the book – crowds. The novel starts off with a mass wedding, then we have the crowd gathering in the cities, crowds forming during the Ayatollah Khomeini’s death (remember this book was written after Rushdie’s fatwa) and at the end of the novel crowds during a wedding in Beirut, only to be interrupted by war (yup full cycle and all that). For DeLillo the crowd represents an unstoppable force, however one that can be easily manipulated by a leader or a writer. Hence what Mao Zedong did with his use of the little red book. (and it ties up with the last book – Wild Swans as well)
My appreciation for DeLillo is increasing with each book I read. I will be tackling White Noise again in the future and I’m wondering if it I will like it a second time round.