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An editor snuck Covid-19 into Don DeLillo’s new novel—but DeLillo took it out at the last moment.

Emily Temple

October 13, 2020, 9:47am

Over the weekend, in The New York Times Magazine, David Marchese spoke with Don DeLillo, the notoriously interview-shy Nobel bridesmaid whose latest novel, The Silence, will be published next week. Rather than beginning with broad strokes, Marchese’s first question reveals a late-stage reversal of one of the details of the novel, in which all the screens go blank in the middle of Super Bowl Sunday 2022. Here’s the exchange*:

Let me ask about something that’s not in The Silence, at least not anymore. In the first galley copy I read, there’s a scene in which a character is reciting disastrous events and mentions Covid-19. Then I was told there were changes to the book and was sent a second galley. Covid-19 was gone. Why did you take it out? I didn’t put Covid-19 in there. Somebody else had. Somebody else could have decided that it made it more contemporary. But I said, “There’s no reason for that.”

I’m shocked that an editor or whoever had the chutzpah to jam anything, let alone a Covid-19 mention, into one of your books. It wasn’t going to stay, that’s for sure.

To be honest, I had the same reaction as Marchese—who is going around dropping things into DeLillo novels in 2020? (Another question: does Don DeLillo approve drafts without reading them? That rascal.) Still, you can understand why an editor might want to reify this particular connection: much of the publicity material around the novel has explicitly situated it in relation to the pandemic. (This is not exactly a criticism: how could a publicist resist?) Even its descriptive copy at Bookshop begins like this: “Don DeLillo completed this novel just weeks before the advent of Covid-19. The Silence is the story of a different catastrophic event. Its resonances offer a mysterious solace.” It’s clear from the interview that DeLillo has been thinking about the pandemic—but also clear that he hasn’t been writing towards it.

*For any readers not versed in the specifics of the book industry, a galley copy is a very late-stage draft, usually mostly complete if possibly not proof-read, sent to reviewers ahead of publication. Large changes from the galley copies are unusual; they would rather defeat the point.

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