Michael J. Sanders at The Quarterly Conversation:
A blue mannequin staring you full in the face from out behind the title and author printed in the same cyan font. Don DeLillo. Zero K. This image itself seems to say that Don DeLillo’s new novel, his sixteenth, will most likely be his last. It will deal with isolation, with absolutes and nullities, and with what Catholics would call “Last Things”: heaven, hell, death, judgment. Also known as Absolute Zero, Zero K or 0° Kelvin (-273.15 °C) represents the asymptotic point where atoms reach perfect stasis. Where nothing moves. Where time stops.
However, within the novel’s own Zero K, a sparse room inside a mysterious scientific facility in rural Eastern Europe funded and run by a group known as the “Convergence,” such is not the case. Rather, here is where certain wealthy elites choose to forego their twilight years so as to be preserved in cryogenic vats. The novel’s protagonist, Jeffrey Lockhart, with his father Ross, watches as his stepmother Artis is taken to Zero K. A deep skeptic of this latest bid for scientific transcendence, Jeffrey relishes the fact that Zero K in fact brings the body that the Convergence takes and—transforms? preserves? kills?—farther from rather than closer to the coldest of temperatures.
Like many of the main players in DeLillo’s late fiction, Ross Lockhart is a billionaire whose exact occupation and power are left to the hazy cant of the industry: “private wealth management,” “dynasty trusts,” “emerging markets.” Suffice to say he is part of the same world of predatory finance capital as Eric Packer of Cosmopolis (2003) and buys from the same mega-rich abstract art market of Martin Ridnour of Falling Man (2007). After a career of being privy to pretty much anything he wants, Ross decides to fund something of actual worth, a project dedicated to ending human death.