Ratner's Star

Ratner's Star

by Don DeLillo


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"A whimsical, surrealistic excursion into the modern scientific mind." --The New Yorker

One of DeLillo's first novels, Ratner's Star follows Billy, the genius adolescent, who is recruited to live in obscurity, underground, as he tries to help a panel of estranged, demented, and yet lovable scientists communicate with beings from outer space. It is a mix of quirky humor, science, mathematical theories, as well as the complex emotional distance and sadness people feel. Ratner's Star demonstrates both the thematic and prosaic muscularity that typifies DeLillo's later and more recent works, like The Names (which is also available in Vintage Contemporaries).  

"His most spectacularly inventive novel." --The New York Times 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679722922
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/28/1989
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 598,915
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Don DeLillo is the author of fifteen novels, including Zero K, Underworld, Falling Man, White Noise, and Libra. He has won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize for his complete body of work, and the William Dean Howells Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2010, he was awarded the PEN/Saul Bellow Prize. The Angel Esmeralda was a finalist for the 2011 Story Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. In 2012, DeLillo received the Carl Sandburg Literary Award for his body of work.


Westchester County, New York

Date of Birth:

November 20, 1936

Place of Birth:

New York City


Fordham University, 1958

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Ratner's Star 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
pynchon82 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My reactions to this novel can be put rather succinctly. If David Foster Wallace is indeed a fan of Don Delillo, this is the novel he has stolen from most. If Don Delillo is indeed a fan of Thomas Pynchon, this is the novel that Pynchon most directly inspired. But regardless of its influences or the work it later inspired, because those things are speculatory, it is certainly true that this novel, Delillo's fourth, is his first great novel. The novel centers around child math prodigy Billy Terwilliger. At fourteen years old, Billy has already won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work with "zorgs" (as near as I can figure, Delillo made this term up) and now lives a life of quiet seclusion at a mathematics academy for genius teenagers. He is called, somewhat against his will, to a remote laboratory (named Field Experiment Number One) to decipher a string of code believed to have come from a newly discovered planet coined Ratner's Star. This is a wildly funny novel with sequences of surrealistic absurdity and populated with bizarre characters. There's Henrik Endor, who, before Billy, failed to break the code and now lives in a hole, spending his days digging and feeding on larvae. There's Orang Mohole, the acknowledged kingpin of alternate physics, who subsists on strange green pills and vicarious threesomes. There's Shazar Lazarus Ratner, a renowned astronomer turned mystic so diseased that he now lives in a plastic bubble so that oxygen cannot kill him. There's Elux Troxl, the entrepeneur, who, alongside his oddly-perverted sidekick Grbk, deals in leased computer time, chain letters, and bat guano. There's Cheops Feeley, who annually awards a prize to the mathematician whose new ideas holds the highest "madness content." There's also Chester Greylag Dent, ninety-two-years old and ending his days in a secret submarine somewhere off the shore of Europe.It's hard saying what purpose this novel is intended to serve, what point Delillo is trying to make. But it seems obvious that there is something to be said here about the stupidity of science, the differences between thinking analytically, thinking logically, and thinking superstitiously. And, despite its humor, there is an overwhelming sense of attempting to understand the complex emotional distance and sadness people feel when they truly are more brilliant than the people around them.This is as close to a five star novel as I have read in a while. Distinctly Delillo, it shows definite strides in the direction of becoming the novelist he will eventually become.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ratner's Star is among DeLillo's earliest novels to achieve the status of a true masterpiece. However, it is not among his more accessible works, and I do not recommend it as an entry into his canon. It is a highly conceptual novel with very little plot to speak of, and only minimal character development, which in this case is not a flaw but rather the basis of the novel's strength. DeLillo crafts a maddening trek through the universes of mathematical and linguistic thought that is, at times, as disorienting as Kafka's The Castle, but does cohere, in stages, to a satisfying conclusion. Structured into two distinct sections along the lines of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Ratner's Star extends and updates the academic and scientific satire of the Laputa episodes in Swift's Gulliver's Travels. While superficially a parody of the insularities and incompatibilities of specific schools of scholarly discourse, the novel builds in the second book to a complete disintegration of logic, language, and concept. Along the way, Delillo packs in dozens of episodes rich enough to spawn conceptual novels on their own.