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The weather grows warmer. Jack receives a call from his
ex-wife Janet, now known as Mother Devi, asking if Heinrich can
come and visit her. She tells him she wants only to talk in a spirit
of peace and mutual affinity, to which he responds by hanging up.
The Hitler conference finally begins at College-on-the-Hill,
and after making a few opening remarks in German, Jack spends most
of the conference hiding in his office, particularly from the Germans. Jack
keeps thinking of the gun Vernon gave him, of its power and secrecy.
Jack drives out to Autumn Harvest Farms for his tests,
where his body is scrutinized with the latest equipment. After the
tests, he meets with a man about the results. The man asks Jack
a series of questions and constantly refers to Jack’s test results
without actually revealing any of the numbers. The man asks him
if he was exposed to Nyodene Derivative, and Jack denies it. He
gives Jack an envelope and tells him to take it back to his doctor.
Jack and Murray go on a long walk through Blacksmith,
during which Jack reveals all his fears and frustrations, including
his inability to cope with death’s inevitability and his inability
to live a meaningful life in the face of death. Murray notes that
Jack turned to Hitler to save himself from death, to lose himself
in Hitler’s power and aura, because “Hitler is larger than death.”
As a purely intellectual argument, Murray says that one way of relieving
a fear of dying is to kill. According to Murray, the act of killing
rejuvenates the killer. He disagrees with Jack’s theory that “every
plot is a murder in effect.” For Murray, plots affirm life and advance
consciousness, and he believes that within every man lies a deep-seated
rage that he can potentially tap into to become a killer.
Back home, Jack continues to throw away every unused, unwanted
item he can find, blaming these objects for his inevitable death.
A letter informing Jack of the arrival of his ATM card comes in
Lying in bed, Jack shares with Babette parts of his conversation
with Murray. Thoughts of Mr. Gray flash through Jack’s mind, and
the next day he begins to carry the gun. Jack learns that Orest
Mercator’s attempt to set a record for sitting in a cage of poisonous
snakes failed after Orest was bitten four times in four minutes
by nonvenomous snakes. While walking through campus, Jack hears
someone following him. He begins to duck and weave, as if he were
being shot at or chased. When he finally stops to draw his gun and
confront his pursuer, he discovers that it’s Winnie Richards. Winnie
tells Jack that she’s read an article about the manufacturer and
project manager behind Dylar. From her, Jack learns Mr. Gray’s real
name, Willie Mink, and also about his unconventional methods of
luring people to his motel room. Willie Mink, according to the article,
now lives in that same motel room, having been fired from his job.
Winnie tells Jack that he can find the motel in Germantown, a neighborhood
he has never heard of.
As soon as Jack gets home, he tells Babette he’s leaving
with the car. She responds in her increasingly evasive, ironic tone.
Jack leaves the house and steals his neighbor’s car, which has been
parked with the keys in the ignition ever since the airborne toxic
event. He drives toward Germantown, recklessly running through lights
and tolls, fingering the gun in his pocket. As he drives, he feels
remarkably free and full of life.
The cyclical structure of the novel moves toward an ending
as the seasons change and the academic school year comes to a close,
and the recognizably plotted portion of the novel—as opposed to
the formless, meandering story that comprised the earlier sections
of the novel—begins to take firm shape. The novel began with an
affirmation of life and health, demonstrated by the arrival of affluent,
fresh-faced students, and now the characters are drawing toward
a violent ending. The specter of death has been approaching more
visibly in these final chapters, first in the form of Vernon Dickey’s
gun and now in Murray’s counterargument to Jack’s long-held belief
that plots tend toward death. Jack and Murray’s supposedly theoretical conversation
provides another missing piece to the developing plot: death is
suddenly not only plausible, but necessary.
Winnie Richards supplies the name of Willie Mink, which
is the final piece of information needed to move the story to its
conclusion. Like the gun and Murray’s argument in favor of murder,
Winnie’s information is deliberately and self-consciously placed
into the story to propel the action forward. She has not only read
an article about Dylar but also, somewhat unrealistically, found
in that article the name and current location of the project manager
who took advantage of Babette. Conveniently, Jack hears all of this
on the same afternoon he has brought his gun to class, armed and
ready for a fight. DeLillo has employed an obvious plot device,
so purposefully contrived as to be nearly comical. By the time we
see Jack pulling away in his stolen car, left ready and waiting
with the key in the ignition, to track down Willie Mink, we recognize
that highly conventional plot elements are gearing into action.
Even as death draws nearer, the story maintains its humor
and ironic smirk. Overtly funny bits pile up: the Hitler conference
where Jack repeats the name of Hitler’s dog over and over; the farcical, empty
conversation with the analyst at the absurdly named Autumn Harvest
Farms; Orest Mercator’s failed performance; and, of course, the
conveniently named Germantown, where Willie Mink lives. Viewed as
part of this absurd, comic landscape, the plot devices no longer
seem quite so implausible. At the same time, the humor of the story
also creates tension between the situation’s dread and its simultaneous
absurdity. Jack and Murray’s long discussion perfectly illustrates
that tension. Poignant, accurate, and humorous, the discussion allows
Jack to speak about death in a straightforward, unsentimental way
that lends validity to its substance.