I just wrote a long and detailed review of this book and it got deleted! Since I’m too lazy to rewrite, I’ll summarise this book in one sentence :
Modern Life is Rubbish.
update two – Hurrah – thank goodness. I’m suscribed to my own blog!. Here it is :
Don Delillo’s White Noise was a book I absolutely hated when I first read it back in 2004 but now since I’m older (and cynical) I’ve come to appreciate my second reading of the novel.
As such you could say that this is DeLillo’s homage to modern life and how fearsome it can get. Sure all of DeLillo’s novels are about that but this is his most sarcastic.
Jack Gladney is the head of Hitler studies at university. He has survived four marriages and his current wife, Babette is constantly afraid of death and is taking pills to overcome it. Funnily enough all of Jack’s six or so children embrace the modern life they lead. Television , adverts, natural disasters (in fact the Airborne Toxic Event section of the book criticises the media very heavily) fast food and everything consumer related.
Is there a plot? not really but there is a small storyline which gives White Noise a bit of body. Jack finds out that his wife traded sexual favours for the pills that she takes and he sets out to kill the supplier. As such this ties in with the overlying theme of consumer America.
White Noise is not DeLillo’s best novel. Parts of it do drag a bit and he does hit the message home way too many times. But it definitely isn’t terrible. I see it as a precursor of what was to follow (namely the excellent Mao II and the dazzling Underworld) but it is a good read on the whole and worth checking out.
Having LOVED the awesome Underworld, I was sure that one moment of clarity was a fluke and that I’d dislike the rest of DiLillo’s non Underworld books. After all I wasn’t too keen on ‘Falling Man’ or ‘White Noise’ . To my surprise I enjoyed Mao II as much as Underworld.
Mao II plays out like an early Simpson’s episode. At first there’s an introduction which makes you think that the rest of the book will focus on the certain topic but then halfway through the novel, the real plot emerges and you find out that DeLillo was leaving some breadcrumbs in order to keep us on track but not really know when the true story emerges.
Since DeLillo’s books focus more on current topics, the main points of Mao II are about the power of crowds, terrorist movements, Photography as an art form and the power of a writer. Oddly enough for a book that was written in 1992 it is strangely ahead of its time as some of the scenes of the book would eventually materialise nine years later during the September 11th attacks.
Bill Grey is a recluse writer who is constantly rewriting his manuscript. He is approached by his agent in order to help free an imprisoned writer in Beirut and through this process he learns that the writer has the power to move crowds just as forcefully as any terrorist leader.
I would say that is the main focus of the book – crowds. The novel starts off with a mass wedding, then we have the crowd gathering in the cities, crowds forming during the Ayatollah Khomeini’s death (remember this book was written after Rushdie’s fatwa) and at the end of the novel crowds during a wedding in Beirut, only to be interrupted by war (yup full cycle and all that). For DeLillo the crowd represents an unstoppable force, however one that can be easily manipulated by a leader or a writer. Hence what Mao Zedong did with his use of the little red book. (and it ties up with the last book – Wild Swans as well)
My appreciation for DeLillo is increasing with each book I read. I will be tackling White Noise again in the future and I’m wondering if it I will like it a second time round.
When I read Underworld in 2000, I absolutely hated it. I thought it was just some meaningless ramble with a couple of old pop culture references just to make DeLillo sound cool. I’ve also read Falling Man and White Noise, which I didn’t really warm to.
Ten years later and I decide to re-read the book again and I LOVED it!
It seems that every decade there is an American author who writes a huge book which criticises the world today. In the ’00’s it was Jonathan Franzen with ‘The Corrections’ and in the 90’s it’s Underworld.
Now it is very difficult to actually summarise Underworld as it is a chunky novel which has many reoccurring themes. Yet these themes are spread out though the last fifty years of American history. To confuse matters more this is told backwards (with the exception of the prologue and epilogue). That’s right the book’s first part starts off in 1998 and ends in 1951.
As you can see I still haven’t really mentioned the plot. As there are many narratives but the main one deals with an Italian/American called Nick Shay and how his life revolves around contemporary society. There are threads, Nick’s brother Matt, his one time fling with the artist Klara Sax, his dealings with a baseball memorabilia collector called Marvin Lundy. This is just the surface, there’s a lot going on but this forms part of the main plot.
Not to mention the themes that dominate Underworld. Waste and garbage, baseball (make sure you read that prologue, it’s the key to understanding the book) Stand Up comedy, Graffiti, the Cuban Missile Crises and more. The thing is DeLillo weaves all these themes together and traces them to Nick Shay. By the time you read the epilogue all loose ends are tied and you have a feeling of satisfaction when you close the book.
Underworld is a breathtaking and intelligent novel, but unfortunately there is one flaw : It has a weak midsection ( I know that sounds weird but you get what I mean) It does not drag but after reading an exhilarating 400 pages or so, you do feel disappointed that the middle does not live up to the high standards of the beginning. It does pick up again, and very smoothly. Don’t let this put you off the book. Underworld is a truly essential novel and a prophetic one (you’ll see what I mean) at that!
I have a very shaky (metaphorical) relationship with Don DeLillo. On one hand I admire the tension that is present in his novels. On the other hand I tend to drift off while reading them. Underworld was a great novel, However I felt it way overlong, I couldn’t stand White Noise but i did like The Body Artist but I felt that I would never tackle a DeLillo again.
Now he has reappeared in my life for a fourth time.
Falling Man, though has got to be DeLillo’s most human novel to date (well at least from the ones I read) the cold atmosphere of the previous novels are gone and yet the intense use of detail still remains. To give a short summary, the novel is about a 9/11 survivor who returns to his ex wife and kids. As Keith Settles down and gets used to readjusting his life again he starts to tour the world as a professional poker player.
In the meantime his ex wife’s world starts to crumble. Her neighbour annoys her. The reading group she sets up for Alzheimer patients falls apart and she spends more time with her mother. During this she watches a performance artist called The Falling Man, who’s act consists of dangling himself from skyscrapers.
To be honest the same old problem with DeLillo began to occur. I got bored read, especially during the tedious second half. Sometimes I find DeLillo too intense for his own good and it happens in Falling Man. By the end of the book I felt unsatisfied. True it is about humans adapting and overcoming themselves but isn’t Jonathan Franzen’s ‘The Corrections’ about that and written in a more interesting way?