So where are we?"

Who knows?"

We're inside," Lyle said."

That's for sure."

It's obvious."

It's obvious because if we were outside the cars would be climbing up my back."

The outside world."

That's it, McKechnie said.

"Things that happen and you're helpless. All you can do is wait for how bad."

Lyle didn't know exactly what they were talking about . . .

WHAT WE HAVE HERE is homage to the vapid ironies of Beckett and Ointer, but we are also in the middle of Don DeLillo's remarkable new novel of menace and mystery, Players, a fastidious rejection of the modern age. The rejectors and rejectees are one and the same, Lyle and Pammy, a couple so hip they wonder if they're too intelligent to stay functional; and they are - in the world their Hipness mocks. "Modern-stupid" is pammy's view of it all.

She works for the Grief Management Council in the World Trade Center ("It Ends For Him On The Day He Dies - But you Have To Face Tomorrow.") Lyle is a broker on the floor of the stock exchange, loathes it, and amuses his friends with comedy routines he learns from records. The theater bores him (but not movies) and at home he has fun quick-flipping the television dial. They order dinner from Dial-A-Streak and argue over whose responsibility it is to buy an extra battery for the Italian clock. When Pammy gets angry at Lyle she cleans the apartment.

The book opens with an allegorial preclude DeLillo calls "The Movie," which collects all the story's principal characters, none of them named yet, on an airplane, watching a movie of a brand of terrorists slaughtering several golfers on a fairway, a vicious scene accompanied by tinkly piano music suitable for a Buster Keaton movie, The contrast of blood and piano steeps the scene in "gruesomely humorous ambuguity, a spectacle of ridiculous people doing awful things to total fools."

When the scent ends we are thrown into the real story - Lyle's and Pammy's empty lives - and the book threatens to become another witty send-uo of hard-core sophistication! But on page 76, while Lyle is seducing a secretary from the office, he sees in her apartment a photo of her with a man who was recently shot on the stock exchange floor. Also in the photo is the man who shot him. The story instantly assumes a tantalizing new dimension in keepind with the prologue.The killing was connected to terrorists, and so, clearly, is this girl.

Lyle is enthralled and anoints himself as a double agent, initating contact with the CIA and urging the girl to connect him to the bombers. "I'm out," he telle her."Let it all come down. Don't you think everybody, nearly, feels that way about their work, where they work all those years?" The Bombers take him in with vague talk about plans to bomb the stock exchange. Or do they take him in? It feels like a play to Lyle. Is J. Kinnear, who may have had connections to Oswald, a terrorist? A double agent himself? And what of Marina Vilar and her brother? Did they really dynamite the embassy in Brussels? And Burks, is he CIA, or what?

Lyle feels intelligent conning everybody, but he doesn't know exactly what they are talkinh about. Again.

Pammy, to rid herself of the stench of up-to-date boredom, flies off to the pure air of Maine with a pair of homosexuals, one of whom she makes her lover. panny has no more awareness of what's going on in her life than Lyle has of his, but it's a nice change in Maine, and the sex is different, and the talk is amusing. It is certainty some shock when her lover immolates himself at the garbage dump, a simulated Buddhist monk, self-sacrificing in protest against vulnerable people like himself. Pammy comes back to the city and discovers the meaning of the word "tansient."

When we last see Lyle he is in a motel in Canada with the girl who connected him to the terrorists. She is sleeping and he is propped up in bed beside her, awaiting a call from J. Kinnear as to his next move. He has joined the players in the play, he has undergone a transformation. DeLillo writes: "The propped figure . . . is barely recognizable as male. Shedding capabilities and traits by the seond, he can still be described (but quickly) as well-formed, sentient and fair. We know nothing else about him."

DeLillo is a spectacular talent, supremely witty and a natural story-teller. (He has written four other novels:

Americana, his first, End Zone, Great Jones Street, and Ratner's Star.) From his first book it was also clear that his control of the language was of a high order. The difference between that first book and the latest is what he leaves out. Players is half the size of Americana, but just as dense with implication of the meaning of the lives it presents to us.

Lyle and Pammy are hastily defined, sketches really. But unforgettable sketches, like Lautrec's. How did they get the way they are? Who cares? There are. Dig them. The entropy of humblebees. And the flowers are all poison.