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Don DeLillo: Only connect 

Something always happens to screw people up in Don DeLillo's short stories. It can happen suddenly, like a "hole opened up in the air". Or it can happen more sneakily, like a presence felt only in the "faint displacement of air". Often it's a striking voice that darkens the mood. In the early DeLillo story "Human Moments in World War III", two men gather intelligence from a spacecraft orbiting earth. They listen to censored news broadcasts, and hear "something in the announcer's voice [that] hints at a let-down, a fatigue, a faint bitterness about-something."

The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories is DeLillo's first collection of stories. It's been a long time coming, but then DeLillo — the author of 15 novels and three plays — has never been a prolific short-story writer. Mid-career he said he was writing "fewer all the time", and those he did write often found their way into novels. But while there weren't that many stories to choose from in DeLillo's remarkable body of work, the ones that have been chosen for this collection are stunning.

The stories, written between 1979 and 2011, are arranged chronologically and divided into three sections. The opening story, "Creation", concerns a couple at the end of an island holiday. They are due to fly to Barbados, then on to New York, but their plans are messed up by an unreliable airline. The next day the woman flies out and the man stays behind. His estrangement leads to a spontaneous intimacy with a woman suffering an unnamed trauma. Already we're in DeLillo's weird world. The story's dialogue is incantatory, trademark DeLillo:

          "Are you listening?"

          "To what?"

          "Listen carefully."

          "The waves," she said.

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