Zero K: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Can death be cheated? Should it be? With language as sharply honed as a knife, DeLillo raises existential questions that are closely tied to the modern world we live in - a world of technologies that we can barely keep up with.  Jeffrey Lockhart, son of billionaire Ross, is brought to a secret compound far from civilization to witness his stepmother’s death. Primarily funded by Ross, and years in development, this is where people come to experience death as a precisely controlled event and to have their bodies preserved so that they may someday be revived. Jeff is alternately appalled and fascinated by the surreal environment in which he finds himself. DeLillo’s characters expose themselves so intimately that it seems almost voyeuristic. They debate modern technology and ancient ritual, father and son, man and woman, isolation and community, life and death. DeLillo, turning 80 this year, has written an unpredictable and thought-provoking novel that isn’t about death, but rather on the fine line between living and dying.

- Cindy

— From Cindy's Recs


New York Times Bestseller
A New York Times Notable Book

The wisest, richest, funniest, and most moving novel in years from Don DeLillo, one of the great American novelists of our time—an ode to language, at the heart of our humanity, a meditation on death, and an embrace of life.

Jeffrey Lockhart’s father, Ross, is a billionaire in his sixties, with a younger wife, Artis Martineau, whose health is failing. Ross is the primary investor in a remote and secret compound where death is exquisitely controlled and bodies are preserved until a future time when biomedical advances and new technologies can return them to a life of transcendent promise. Jeff joins Ross and Artis at the compound to say “an uncertain farewell” to her as she surrenders her body.

“We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn’t it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?”

These are the questions that haunt the novel and its memorable characters, and it is Ross Lockhart, most particularly, who feels a deep need to enter another dimension and awake to a new world. For his son, this is indefensible. Jeff, the book’s narrator, is committed to living, to experiencing “the mingled astonishments of our time, here, on earth.”

Don DeLillo’s seductive, spectacularly observed and brilliant new novel weighs the darkness of the world—terrorism, floods, fires, famine, plague—against the beauty and humanity of everyday life; love, awe, “the intimate touch of earth and sun.”

Zero K is glorious.

About the Author

Don DeLillo is the author of fifteen novels, including Zero K, Underworld, Falling Man, White Noise, and Libra. He has won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize for his complete body of work, and the William Dean Howells Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2010, he was awarded the PEN/Saul Bellow Prize. His story collection The Angel Esmeralda was a finalist for the 2011 Story Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Praise For…

“Mr. DeLillo’s haunting new novel, Zero K — his most persuasive since his astonishing 1997 masterpiece, Underworld — is a kind of bookend to White Noise: somber and coolly futuristic, where that earlier book was satirical and darkly comic. . . . . All the themes that have animated Mr. DeLillo’s novels over the years are threaded through Zero K — from the seduction of technology and mass media to the power of money and the fear of chaos. . . . like a chamber music piece. . . . reminds us of his almost Day-Glo powers as a writer and his understanding of the strange, contorted shapes that eternal human concerns (with mortality and time) can take in the new millennium.”

"One of the most mysterious, emotionally moving and formally rewarding books of DeLillo's long carer... Unexpectedly touching... [DeLillo offers] consolation simply by enacting so well the mystery and awe of the real world... I finished it stunned and grateful."

“Brilliant and astonishing… a masterpiece… full of DeLillo's amazing inimitable scalpel perceptions, fluent in the ideas we'll be talking about 20 years from now… ZERO K somehow manages to renew DeLillo's longstanding obsessions while also striking deeply and swiftly at the reader's emotions….The effect is transcendent.”

“Daring... provocative... exquisite... captures the swelling fears of our age.”

“Among many delights, Don DeLillo’s extraordinary new novel offers a bracing revision of our certitude about death and taxes. . . . DeLillo has created a mysterious, funny, and profound book out of a cultural gag usually reliant on metal cylinders and dry ice. . . . ZERO K deserves to win old and new readers alike. It’s a marvelous blend of DeLillo’s enormous gifts. His bleak humor and edged insight, the alertness and vitality of his prose, the vast, poetic extrapolations are all evident. So is the visceral quickness and wit in the sentences. . . . This is one of the constant pleasures of a DeLillo novel, the talk, the shop talk, the comic talk, the cosmic talk, the way the characters feel language, its sonics, the moral and emotional pressures.”

“In this intriguing novel, Don DeLillo trains his intense and singular vision on a future where people with the imagination and resources to achieve it may succeed in rewriting [the necessity of death].”

"Among DeLillo's finest work... DeLillo sneaks a heartbreaking story of a son attempting to reconnect with his father into his thought-provoking novel."

"Lush in thought and feeling... Intently observant and obsessively concerned with language and meaning, Jeffery is a mesmerizing and disquieting narrator as he describes the “eerie and disembodying” ambiance of the Convergence and its ritualized, morally murky amalgam of mysticism and science, from the “post-mortem décor,” punctuated by unnerving sculptures and violent cinematic montages, to the sarcophagus-pods containing naked, cryopreserved voyagers to the unknown... DeLillo infuses the drama with metaphysical riddles: What of ourselves can actually be preserved? What will resurrection pilgrims experience in their cold limbo? With immortality reserved for the elite, what will become of the rest of humanity on our pillaged, bloodied, extinction-plagued planet? In this magnificently edgy and profoundly inquisitive tale, DeLillo reflects on what we remember and forget, what we treasure and destroy, and what we fail to do for each other and for life itself... DeLillo reaffirms his standing as one of the world’s most significant writers."

“DeLillo homes in on what may be the ultimate—and deceptively simple—lesson of his novel, which is that in the end, the questions we ask about where death takes us are the same ones we ask about where life takes us.”

“Reveals itself as perhaps the author’s most fully animated exploration of human feeling.”

"Resplendently insightful... an engrossing work of narrative art... rare and extraordinary."

“To reconcile . . . the fear of death that informs so many egregious acts . . . and the little everyday moments that make up so much of life — is the problem DeLillo takes up again and again, and the impossibility of it is what makes his work so powerful, so comical . . . and so fine.”

“Elegant written . . . Soaringly eloquent.”

“Mr. DeLillo’s true brilliance has always been as a satirist. Despite its morbid subject, this is a terrifically funny novel.”

"[DeLillo is] the master of the pre-apocalyptic novel, the chief literary mapper of the dehumanized places our current world may lead us. [He] is near the top of his game in Zero K."

“DeLillo’s prose style has undergone a quickening. His sentences have always had a cascade effect, but lately their arc is steeper. Gravity has assumed more force. And [in Zero K] style and theme have something in common.”

Zero K is science fiction of a kind that takes place five minutes from now and a novel of ideas that’s deeply emotional.”

“The novel’s brilliance escalates sharply as it proceeds. By the end, it is absolute.”

Zero K demonstrates the electrifying possibilities of DeLillo’s approach. . . . This is speculative fiction in the present tense written with an ardent concentration and economy, no superfluous words, not even a wasted comma. At its best, DeLillo’s prose buzzes with the ambient hum of modernity, attuning the reader to a subliminal frequency, the hidden meanings of everyday objects and rituals.”

“A profound and deeply moral book.”

“Almost six decades into publishing fiction, this author has put up a fresh career landmark. . . . [DeLillo] has brought off something simple but disturbing, revealing both the perils of faith and the power of Gospel.”


“Brave and bracing . . . sure to solidify [DeLillo’s] reputation as one of the great American novelists of our time.”

“Handily [DeLillo’s] best book since 1997’s magnum opus Underworld . . . [Zero K] feels very much like a companion piece to White Noise. . . . It is a book that speaks to the vitality and beauty of life. . . . Zero K is DeLillo, and literature, and life, in reverse—a plot that originates in death and moves, with sly, subtle triumph, ever life-ward”

“Powerful. . . . Zero K may poke fun at life extension, but it gives us the warmest depicture of a DeLillo novel yet at the intimate reason for this perpetual Icarus complex. . . . the most powerful reason for this desire for transcendence is love, and as Zero K so poignantly reminds, love is one element that does not survive at subfreezing zero kelvin.”

“Zero K grapples with the fact our demise is profoundly at odds with this aspect of us that years to exceed every limitation. Circling around this irreconcilable dilemma, DeLillo finds a vital dialogue with his great work White Noise. It is this . . . that makes this book a provocative success.”

“Wonderfully imagined, intellectually kinetic.”

“As ever, DeLillo explores the depths of an edgy, timely topic, completely resisting cliché, and emerges with something both fresh and universal.”

“There are deep, slicing currents running through Zero K, despite its almost ascetic surfaces, and there are unforgettable little moments scattered everywhere in these pages.”

“A return to top form . . . . this compact tale has more ideas, argument, and speculation stuffed onto nearly every page than you might find in an entire shelf of sci-fi novels. . . . But Zero K is anchored in emotions as old and primal as humanity itself: the fear of death, the passionate love of a man for his wife, the conflicted love of a son for his father. These rich veins of feeling flow like an underground river through the novel’s eerie, futuristic terrain.”

“A brilliant writer putting his prose mastery on display . . . . [with] thoughtfulness and dazzling construction.”

“Juxtaposing . . . everyday human observation with more cosmic considerations, DeLillo creates a range of experience that is often dazzling.”

“Brisk and affecting as a Teflon-coated bullet.”

“Zero K stands as the best of [DeLillo’s] recent work. . . . The intense, penetrating DeLillo sentences are still here, but now with a touch of Beckett to wax their warp. DeLillo turns 80 in November, and Zero K is still years ahead of the rest of us.”

“Magnificent, mesmerizing, major, and mystical. . . . This terrific novel unsettles, disturbs and undermines conventional notions and holds our contemporary existence up for examination.”

"Zero K pushes its readers to feel. It is almost impossible to not. With its confluence of screens, strange artwork, empty rooms, long hallways, and shaved hands of those soon to be frozen, Zero K creates an experiment, and we, its subjects, feel pulled to interact."

“The sentences shimmer like specimens in laboratory jars and the characters flicker like ghosts, but at its core the novel is trying to balance the atrocities and sufferings of life with its small, human pleasures: walking down a street, checking your wallet, starting a conversation with a stranger.” 

“Zero K is as creepy as it sounds. But it’s also consistently funny, in DeLillo’s well-honed deadpan style. And the moral questions DeLillo deftly ponders in this masterly work of fiction may soon be more than hypothetical.”

“In Zero K, Don DeLillo has found the perfect physical repository for his oracular visions. . . . His vision is ironic, sere, crackling with static like a horror film.”

“Like a stethoscope, Don DeLillo’s work can make the heartbeat of your life roar in your ears. . . . In Zero K, DeLillo doesn’t give the reader much room to suspend disbelief. With very deliberate words the novel wants to turn our eyes back to the artificial realities that we’ve allowed to colonize our lives. Our only chance, his fiction implies, is to define them, to master them with language — lest we continuously be defined by our technology.” 

Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9781501135392
ISBN-10: 1501135392
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: May 3rd, 2016
Pages: 288
Language: English