Picks and Pans Review: The Body Artist

updated 02/26/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/26/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Don DeLillo

If 1997's Underworld, DeLillo's much acclaimed 827-page Cold War opus, was a symphonic work for full orchestra, then his latest, The Body Artist, is a tightly constructed string quartet. The story, told in a brisk 124 pages, revolves around Lauren Hartke, a performance artist, recently widowed by the suicide of her famous filmmaker husband. Alone with her grief in her largely empty rented house in an isolated coastal area, she encounters a strange and mysterious old man. It's here that DeLillo's tale of fate and identity takes a gothic spin. The man, whom Hartke dubs Mr. Tuttle, cannot communicate in any normal way. He utters words and fragmented phrases out of context, quoting verbatim the words of Hartke's dead husband—as well as her own words—back to her. She wonders what is real and what is a figment of her injured psyche. As is often the case in DeLillo's writings, much is left for the reader to puzzle out. Hartke herself must navigate an unreliable inner landscape, all the while coming to terms with the shattered pieces of her life. (Scribner, $22)

Bottom Line: Spare gem of a novel

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