For every elegant, compact sentence closing around its meaning as if delicately preying on it, there are passages that bear the other DeLillo mark, which could best be called a kind of fastidious vagueness. These are passages in which fancy words are deployed with a cool, technical confidence, in a spirit of precision, as if they have actual referents, but in which meaning is smeared and obscured. Consider this description of poker, a game that Keith had played every week with three other men, before "the day":
They played each hand in a glazed frenzy. All the action was somewhere behind the eyes, in naïve expectation and calculated deceit. Each man tried to entrap the other and fix limits to his own false dreams, the bond trader, the lawyer, the other lawyer, and these games were the funneled essence, the clear and intimate extract of their daytime initiatives. The cards skimmed across the green baize surface of the round table. They used intuition and cold-war risk analysis. They used cunning and blind luck. They waited for the prescient moment, the time to make the bet based on the card they knew was coming. Felt the queen and there it was. They tossed in the chips and watched the eyes across the table. They regressed to preliterate folkways, petitioning the dead. There were elements of healthy challenge and outright mockery. There were elements of one's intent to shred the other's gauzy manhood.
If I were given this passage in a blind test and asked for provenance, I would first murmur: "American, not English," for this could only be contemporary American prose, and then, more than likely, I would say: "Don DeLillo." What is most striking is the way the prose lifts itself up into a lyricism that is not quite lyrical: "glazed frenzy ... funneled essence ... preliterate folkways ... gauzy manhood" (whatever that is). The effect, very common in post-White Noise DeLillo, is an uneasy sense that the author is perhaps trying to be a bit funny, but not half as funny as he is unwittingly being. The passage is unwittingly funny because it is so awfully earnest, in an adolescent writer's kind of way. The earnestness makes itself felt in the peculiar shifts into solemn pseudo-scientific registers: "They regressed to preliterate folkways, petitioning the dead." In other words, DeLillo means, the players muttered every so often: "Mother, help me!" It is no good to claim that this is free indirect style -- DeLillo deliberately mimicking the earnestness of his poker players -- because this is how DeLillo always sounds, and because there is no reason to assume that his poker players think like DeLillo. But what, except a kind of pomposity, is gained by the quasi-profound diction, with its bogus air of massive anthropological expertise? After all, this is just a poker game. And why "preliterate"? Pre-literacy was a very, very long time ago: has no one called on the dead for the last literate four millennia?