On February 7, Mark Athitakis published both a review of Don DeLillo's Point Omega and a blog post supplementing that review. The review (printed in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune) is a perfectly good review of its kind--the kind limited by the newspaper's imposed limitations of space and the need to address a perceived "general" audience--but what struck me the most is how superior to the review, and ultimately more useful to readers, is the blog post.
The review does an effective job in its first paragraph of locating the new DeLillo novel in the context of his other recent work, and immediately lets the reader know it is a book worth his/her attention. What follows is three paragraphs (out of six total paragraphs) of plot summary, which succinctly enough encapsulate the "story" of Point Omega (succinct plot summaries not being something I normally anticipate in most newspaper reviews, it must be said) and a concluding paragraph that states the reviewer's judgment that the novel manifests an "elegance" and "an artfulness to the prose" that make it more satisfying than DeLillo's previous book.
In the blog post, Athitakis quotes the conclusion of his review, but then moves well beyond the kind of compressed commentary he is able to provide there. The first thing he does is to refer to other critical reaction to Point Omega, a move that is apparently forbidden in most print book reviews. The assumption seems to be that a review must be free-standing, shorn of the useful context consideration of existing commentary on a book might offer. This is a practice that only reinforces the impression of book reviewing as "lifestyle reporting" rather than actual literary criticism, and it's a shame reviewers like Athitakis are not able to engage in real critical dialogue in the reviews they write. In this case, the quotes from the other reviews he includes in his post allow him to express his dissent from prevailing views and to emphasize what he thinks is a misperception of Point Omega.
Athitakis then goes more deeply into what he considers the "timelessness" of DeLillo's concerns, contrary to the notion he's become preoccupied with "abstracted musings on geopolitics" since the events of 9/11/01. He suggests that "the novel’s central tension isn’t between war and peace or American empire and the rapidly approaching apocalypse (though DeLillo hasn’t neglected those concerns), but between differing notions of what it means to be patient. How soon do you perceive somebody’s disappearance as a loss? How long does it take to come around to somebody else’s way of thinking? How much time is required to shift from being concerned about humanity to being concerned about a single human being?" This analysis reflects a level of critical contemplation for which the editors of newspaper book reviews have little patience, but which this blog post presents very cogently.
It isn't that Athitakis's post is much longer than the review, but that it doesn't have to observe the numbing conventions of literary journalism as imposed on the book review. At first it seems like an afterthought to the main business represented by the review, but to me it finally comes to embody the critic's thoughts much more fully. Increasingly, blog-published reviews and criticism in general are more satisfying in this way than what can be found in print publications, especially newspapers.