Zero K – Don DeLillo

Having enjoyed both the written and cinematic versions of Cosmopolis, I wanted to read some more stuff by Don DeLillo. So I put Zero K on my Christmas wish list and Siggy obligingly bought it for me.

DeLillo’s writing, sobering at times, meanders at times and devolves into abstractness like the ramblings of a highly-educated drunk at a party. While I found this captivating in Cosmopolis, I found it rather more difficult to get along with this time around, especially when the very similar main character Jeffrey Lockhart – the son of a billionaire – is pretty hard to connect with emotionally.

Jeffrey is invited by his father Ross (not, it turns out, his real name), to a place in the middle of absolutely nowhere (but somewhere in Eastern Europe) called The Convergence. It’s a sterile and windowless place like a minimalist art gallery or a bigger version of the reclusive CEO’s joint in Ex Machina.

The Convergence is a cultish installation dedicated to the cryogenic preservation of the lives of their wealthy patrons. Ross’s sick wife, Artis, Jeffrey’s stepmother, is going to commit herself to cryogenic preservation in the hope that her health can be restored by future medicine. Jeffrey, curious to explore the corridors lined with locked doors and understand the situation he’s be thrown into, is repulsed by the whole idea.

While he is wandering around the installation, spying on meetings and talking to the odd monk, he watches large screens showing horrifying visuals of natural disasters, terrorism and monks setting themselves on fire. He gives names to the people he observes and imagines complex back stories for them – perhaps showing the inner workings of the author’s mind rather too much.

Jeffrey also has to come to terms with the news that Ross doesn’t want to wait for his health to decline and would rather join Artis in the nanobotic deep freeze. He also struggles with his father-son billionaire-heir relationship with Ross who left his mother when he was thirteen. There’s also what feels like a bit of filler deeper into the book describing his relationship with a girlfriend called Emma and her son who goes missing.

Ross changes his mind about going into suspension with Artis immediately, but then as his health does start to fail – perhaps because on loneliness and a broken heart. Jeffrey returns to The Convergence with his father and observes the preparations for cryogenics. He also spots Emma’s son on one of the violent videos.

The book is a stark observation about the state of modern society and how the wealthy might try to escape with the hope of a better future. However, for me the lack of natural humanity was too alienating, the story wasn’t as thought-provoking as I expected and didn’t explore the relationship between Jeffrey and Ross as deeply as I wanted.

The only thoughts I was left with, were around ideas for a sequel where Artis and Ross are woken in a dystopian future, perhaps by a bunch of robots. How would these privileged white assholes cope? Perhaps Charlie Brooker might tackle the issue in Black Mirror sometime.

Image by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.com

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