Beware of the big voice. So writes Martin Amis in his New Yorker review of Don DeLillo’s recently released collection of short stories, The Angela Esmerelda: Nine Stories. In “Laureate of Terror: Don DeLillo’s Prophetic Soul,” Amis relates,
[W]hen a twelve-year-old, Esmerelda, is raped and thrown off a roof, her image “miraculously” appears on a nearby “billboard floating in the gloom,” and Edgar goes to join the crowds that gather and stare at what is actually nothing more than an ad for Minute Maid orange juice. DeLillo fractionally overloads his title story with some high-style editorializing (“And what do you remember, finally, when everyone has gone home and the streets are empty of devotion and hope, swept by river wind?”). We don’t need the big voice. All we need is Gracie’s “The poor need visions, okay?” and Edgar’s rejoinder, “You say the poor. But who else would saints appear to? Do saints and angels appear to bank presidents? Eat your carrots.”
Amis is leveling an accusation at DeLillo. He’s claiming that DeLillo has made an aesthetic error–and I would agree–by resorting to “high-style editorializing.” DeLillo’s stylistic error has its roots in a perceptual error: a failure to see others clearly and to give them their due.
In our lives, “We don’t need the big voice” because the big voice, by going up an octave at the wrong time, is an act of evasion. It fails to take heed of the other’s claims. “What does the object call for? What does the other need?” Both questions go unheard. If you soar and sing while the other falls, you’re fucking her over: she’s stuck, still stuck in the grime, still trying to make sense of things. Trust that, with your guidance or on her own, she can stumble well enough out. Listen to her words as she says “The poor need visions, okay?” That’s nice. “Eat your carrots.” That’s really fucking nice. She’s onto something here. Look at her. Look at her and dwell with her. Big voices do neither. What’s worse, big voices train the reader to look elsewhere, to get used to fucking the other over.
The right words may be mucky. That’s all right because they’re supposed to clutz out from the right judgments.