In his well-known essay on William Dean Howells, Lionel Trilling remarked that for us today the nineteenth-century family seems an elaborate hoax; to the contemporary sensibility, he said, family life is part of “inadequate bourgeois reality.” By the evidence of the current literary season, bourgeois reality, in several of its manifestations, is still a source of dissatisfaction among the literary intelligentsia. Several novelists, however, are offering corrective measures. Don DeLillo’s latest novel, The Names,[1] is perhaps the most ambitious in this regard, rendering the whole idea of reality moot.

In a review of his fifth novel, Players, Diane Johnson, a great admirer of DeLillo’s, speaks of his use of terrorists as “moral agents.” Terrorist action, she explains, “is not so much an example of...


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