Americana was Don DeLillo's first novel. Published in 1971, it's set in the late '60s. A television executive, David Bell, who lives a vapid empty life in New York travels to the Mid-West to make an art movie. There he discovers that not only is his own life empty, but that there is a gaping hole at the heart of contemporary America. So, at least, I have paraphrased the jacket blurb.

Ultimately I wasn't really convinced that there was an emptiness at the heart of the Mid-West or of the America of the 1960s, but that rather the emptiness was at the heart of David Bell, his fellow TV executives, and in his own background - his father was one of the "Mad Men" copywriters of Madison Avenue.

Perhaps through this Don DeLillo is saying that there is a vacuum at the heart of an America that is centred around advertising and television. Everyone in the novel appears to treat David as though he's important, even though he is vacuous and his own work is seen as unimportant. All in all I found it a very peculiar and rather unsatisfactory novel. I got to the end, and was still none too sure what it was about, was it in fact about anything? Perhaps this was the point.

Don DeLillo writes beautifully, he plays with language wonderfully, in a way which sometimes reminded me of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood but I found much of the plot inpenetrable. I especially had problems with David Bells' attitudes towards women - some of which admittedly reflected the attitudes of the age, but which nevertheless I found uncomfortable. It is just a very odd book, having said which I would be interested in reading a later Don DeLillo to see how his work has developed since this first novel, but I wouldn't recommend this one.


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