Review: “The Land of Guns and Roses”

Via Denise

part one: description

Framed (neatly) around passages from Don DeLillo’s short story “Baader Meinhof,” Denise tells us about an integral moment in her character’s life:

“The stock futures, higher before her coffee break, had taken a sudden and sickening dive by the time she returned. Someone was sad, someone was very, very sad. Her coworker answered the phone. It was his fiancée across the Hudson River, with a prime view of the city skyline. ‘What? Oh my God.’”

Two weeks after September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center “spewed black smoke into the world,” (presumably) Denise watched “Beneath the Veil”—a documentary that, akin to the grisly images portrayed in “Baader Meinhof,” depicted Kabul, Afghanistan’s “surreal moonscape of limbless beggars with pleading eyes and sky-blue burkas floating like ghosts.”

“I can’t stop thinking of those people,” she told her mother.

So began her stint in the Middle East.

Denise planned on only one month in Afghanistan, covering what she hoped would be a short civil war; one month, she said, turned to years as the country spiraled into violence and destruction.

Hearkening on DeLillo, “I thought I was looking, but I was only getting a bare inkling of what’s in these paintings. I’m only just starting to look.”

part two: addendum

Because “The Land of Guns and Roses” is axised around DeLillo’s unnamed female protagonist and her experiences with Gerhard Richter’s collection, I wonder: could additional photographs chronicling Denise’s time in Afghanistan bolster the prose?

Her writing is, already, image-rich; turns of phrase such as “whispers of ethnic rivalry and rampant nepotism” effectually evoke a sense of “helplessness” (DeLillo, 2002, p. 80).

After all, Denise calls on this passage: “I thought I was looking, but I was only getting a bare inkling of what’s in these paintings. I’m only just starting to look” (p. 80).

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