The short stories collected in “The Angel Esmeralda” span the majority of Don DeLillo’s long and tremendously accomplished career. The earliest piece dates from 1979, eight years after DeLillo’s first novel, “Americana.” The most recent was published this fall in Granta. The most surprising thing about the book, then, is that it exists at all: Forty years of writing is a long time to wait to publish one’s first collection of short fiction.
In other respects, the book is fairly unsurprising. Nothing I can say about DeLillo on the basis of “The Angel Esmeralda” will come as news to anyone familiar with his novels: His prose is masterly and austere, he has a deconstructionist’s obsession with the arbitrariness of language, and his interest in human beings often seems less a matter of passionate engagement than of clinical detachment.
Still, there must be some people who haven’t read him, and any chance to urge them to plunge into such works of genius as “Ratner’s Star,” “The Names,” “Libra,” “Underworld” or the National Book Award-winning (and terrifying and hilarious) “White Noise” is an opportunity to be seized. And, while “The Angel Esmeralda” is probably not the ideal place for a neophyte to start — DeLillo requires a large canvas to fully display his narrative gifts, which may explain why the brief novels he published in the past decade have struck many fans as unsatisfying — this collection nonetheless offers some real pleasures.