- Hardcover: 832 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; Classic edition (June 5, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1416548645
- ISBN-13: 978-1416548645
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 452 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #815,731 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Underworld Classic Edition
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While Eisenstein documented the forces of totalitarianism and Stalinism upon the faces of the Russian peoples, DeLillo offers a stunning, at times overwhelming, document of the twin forces of the cold war and American culture, compelling that "swerve from evenness" in which he finds events and people both wondrous and horrifying. Underworld opens with a breathlessly graceful prologue set during the final game of the Giants-Dodgers pennant race in 1951. Written in what DeLillo calls "super-omniscience" the sentences sweep from young Cotter Martin as he jumps the gate to the press box, soars over the radio waves, runs out to the diamond, slides in on a fast ball, pops into the stands where J. Edgar Hoover is sitting with a drunken Jackie Gleason and a splenetic Frank Sinatra, and learns of the Soviet Union's second detonation of a nuclear bomb. It's an absolutely thrilling literary moment. When Bobby Thomson hits Branca's pitch into the outstretched hand of Cotter--the "shot heard around the world"--and Jackie Gleason pukes on Sinatra's shoes, the events of the next few decades are set in motion, all threaded together by the baseball as it passes from hand to hand.
"It's all falling indelibly into the past," writes DeLillo, a past that he carefully recalls and reconstructs with acute grace. Jump from Giants Stadium to the Nevada desert in 1992, where Nick Shay, who now owns the baseball, reunites with the artist Kara Sax. They had been brief and unlikely lovers 40 years before, and it is largely through the events, spinoffs, and coincidental encounters of their pasts that DeLillo filters the Cold War experience. He believes that "global events may alter how we live in the smallest ways," and as the book steps back in time to 1951, over the following 800-odd pages, we see just how those events alter lives. This reverse narrative allows the author to strip away the detritus of history and pop culture until we get to the story's pure elements: the bomb, the baseball, and the Bronx. In an epilogue as breathless and stunning as the prologue, DeLillo fast-forwards to a near future in which ruthless capitalism, the Internet, and a new, hushed faith have replaced the Cold War's blend of dread and euphoria.
Through fragments and interlaced stories--including those of highway killers, artists, celebrities, conspiracists, gangsters, nuns, and sundry others--DeLillo creates a fragile web of connected experience, a communal Zeitgeist that encompasses the messy whole of five decades of American life, wonderfully distilled. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
From Library Journal
Dennis Boutsakaris reads skillfully from DeLillo's carefully abridged opus (LJ 9/1/97), which begins with an extended prolog describing a memorable 1951 World Series game. The baseball hit in the game's climactic home run becomes a focal point for the sprawling novel. The ball's various owners are meticulously profiled as 40 years of American history and culture are sketched. The resulting panorama of the modern age is reminiscent of E.L. Doctorow's splendid Ragtime, yet ultimately the audio fails to move or engage the listener. DeLillo's powers of description are acute, and the intricate structure he has devised for his story is a marvel, but these overpowering virtues seem wearyingly mechanical. The lengthy parade of characters is collectively forgettable. The underlying theme of garbage provides an air of quiet desperation to the grim litany of current events and interwoven plot lines. Not recommended.?John Owen, Advanced Micro Devices Lib., Santa Clara, Cal.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
This is an epic poem of a novel that opens with an account of a 1951 baseball game (which coincides with the Soviets' atomic bomb test) and ends many decades later in the ashes of the Cold War. That opening chapter is spectacular, and the ball from the game-ending home run becomes a talisman, an symbol-laden beacon guiding us forward and back in time. Along the way we spend time with bookies, conceptual artists, nuns, street hoods, celebrities, heroin-addicted pool sharks, math teachers, homeless gay graffiti artists, serial killers, Lenny Bruce and J. Edgar Hoover (among many others).
The themes are enormous and the artistry of the writing made me take my time absorbing its nearly 900 pages. Many times I re-read a paragraph to deconstruct how the hell DeLillo did it. The elliptical dialogue is brilliant and made me wish he also wrote plays.
I guess Pynchon and Wallace (Infinite Jest) are the obvious comparisons, but DeLillo has a humanity and grace those two lack. Though often brilliantly funny, there’s an elegiac, mournful pedal tone running beneath it; as the relative innocence and simple (though existential) fears of the early Cold War are swapped, at a slow drip, for the complex, cynical ironies of today.
To me, Underworld was like a great love affair; it wasn’t always easy, its heightened joys matched by the depths of sadness, its beauty interrupted by flashes of ugliness. I’ll never read it again but I’ll look back on it with a smile on my face and a lump in my throat.
It’s about baseball, the atom bomb and the Bronx. And the many ways we’ve tried through the years, successfully or not, to dispose of the detritus of our collective and private past.
In a way, the book focuses on Nick Shay and his relationship with Klara Sax, and what happened as a result of that relationship. In a way, it's about art, particularly art in our modern era. In a way, it's about the journey of the baseball from the 1951 to Nick through all the stops on its passage. In a way, it's about goodness, and cities, and nuns moving through the urban badlands looking for stray children. It's also about garbage, and everything about garbage disposal.
_Underworld_ is a big book, one that's been sitting on my shelf for far too long because I was a little bit afraid of something that long, but the reading experience itself never felt too heavy-- none of the pages felt unnecessary. I learned things from this book-- I was moved, and I often found it sweet. It inspired a kind of sadness, but not unpleasantly.
A must-read, I think.
It begins with a 60-page prologue putting the reader at the Polo Grounds in New York on that day in October 1951 when Bobby Thompson hits a pennant-winning home run for the NY Giants off of Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca. It came to be called “The Shot Heard Round the World.” Though in reality the home run ball was never found, DeLillo imagines it recovered by a scrawny kid, Cotter Martin, and proceeds loosely to follow the ownership of that ball, in a sort of six-degrees of separation manner, down through the decades.
Their paths crisscross, intersect and overlap in an amazing display of literary skill. For example, on page 608 we see Charles Wainwright Jr., one time owner of the ball, navigating a B-52 bomber over Vietnam in 1969, the very same B-52 dubbed ‘Long Tall Sally’ -- with cheeky nose art to prove it -- the very same plane mothballed and depicted in the opening chapters circa 1992 as the canvas for Klara Sax and her band of desert artists. There are many such links, past, present, future.
There is nothing here in UNDERWORLD that passes for a plot. Not really. DeLillo builds his edifice with vignettes, short clipped sections, sometimes abruptly shifting in person, place and time. UNDERWORLD is visual, cinematic, in style. His dialogue, unlike any author I’ve read, rings true, authentic, and captures that pragmatic, nonverbal element in conversation, the way shared histories, context, and physical gestures fill in the gaps. And then there’s the conversations that don’t click at all, people just talking past one another.
But something else important happened on that day when Thompson hit the home run, something of a more ominous sort that would change lives: the Soviet Union exploded their first atomic bomb. Another “shot heard round the world.”
From the 1951 events, the Giants-Dodgers game and the Soviet test explosion, DeLillo jumps to 1992 and the Arizona desert and a group of artists using mothballed B-52s as their canvass. From there, the novel moves backward chronologically, back to 1951. Was this to mimic the countdown of a rocket, or atomic blast? No matter, it works. We see some of the characters in their full development in 1992, then over the next 700+ pages learn how they got that way.
It’s a huge cast of characters, many historical figures like J. Edgar Hoover, Frank Sinatra, Lenny Bruce, Jackie Gleason, and Harry Caray.
If there is an overriding theme or motif in the novel, it is the obsession with trash. Garbage. Where the home run baseball is the antithesis of trash - a treasured piece of baseball history - the atomic bomb has the ability to turn the world to trash. And then there’s the problem of the spent plutonium, that ultimate of all hazardous wastes. Even one of the main characters, Nick Shay, owner of the 1951 baseball, works for an international waste company.
The Jesuits taught me to examine things for second meanings and deeper connections. Were they thinking about waste? We were waste managers, waste giants, we processed universal waste. Waste has a solemn aura now, an aspect of untouchability. White containers of plutonium waste with yellow caution tags. Handle carefully. Even the lowest household trash is closely observed. People look at their garbage differently now, seeing every bottle and crushed carton in a planetary context. 
The writing is as good as it gets. And while there is certainly joy in the first reading, I’m finding it equally entertaining after turning that final page to return to the first chapters and reacquaint myself with the characters I just left, forty years older in DeLillo’s reverse chronology, and a few months after I’d begun reading. Like a lot of post-modern literature, UNDERWORLD isn’t for those looking for linear plotting, or plotting at all, for that matter. And the characters are not particularly fleshed out. But the journey is certainly worth the time and effort.
Most recent customer reviews
Look, this isn't for everyone. It's slow, it meanders aimlessly for hundreds of pages.Read more