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White Noise Paperback – Deckle Edge, December 29, 2009
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"One of the most ironic, intelligent, grimly funny voices to comment on life in present-day America . . . [White Noise] poses inescapable questions with consummate skill."
--Jayne Anne Phillips, The New York Times Book Review
"DeLillo's eighth novel should win him wide recognition as one of the best American noveslists. . . . the homey comedy of White Noise invites us into a world we're glad to enter. Then the sinister buzz of implication makes the book unforgettably disturbing."
"A stunning book . . . it is a novel of hairline prophecy, showing a desolate and all-too-believable future in the evidence of an all-too-recognizable present. . . . Through tenderness, wit, and a powerful irony, DeLillo has made every aspect of White Noise a moving picture of a disquiet we seem to share more and more."
--Los Angeles Times
"It's brilliance is dark and sheathed. And probing. In White Noise, Don DeLillo takes a Geiger-counter reading of the American family, and comes up with ominous clicks."
"A stunning performance from one of our most intelligent novelists . . . Tremendously funny."
--The New Republic
About the Author
Don DeLillo published his first short story when he was twenty-three years old. He has since written twelve novels, including White Noise (1985) which won the National Book Award. It was followed by Libra (1988), his novel about the assassination of President Kennedy, and by Mao II, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
In 1997, he published the bestselling Underworld, and in 1999 he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, given to a writer whose work expresses the theme of the freedom of the individual in society; he was the first American author to receive it. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
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This book was wonderful. It met all my criteria. It is a quick and enthralling read, and it stimulates deep thinking about the nature of family, career, life, culture, etc.
I found parts of the book to be screamingly hilarious, but definitely in a dark-humor way.
A notable fact: this book has the best DIALOGUE i ever recall reading in any novel. ever. The dialogue between husband and wife, and between other family members and characters, is both true-to-life (by being awkward, stumbling, flawed) and also just slightly hyper-real, just slightly over-the-top in its weighted, unspoken implications and tension.
My fondness for this book continued to grow after I finished reading it. For several weeks afterward, I would find myself in real-life situations that reminded me of moments in the novel, and this deepened my appreciation for what an excellent job Delillo did in capturing the idiosyncrasies of modern life. Truth is stranger than fiction. Even the very strange fiction in White Noise.
Here is the only thing that I *discourage* you from doing with regard to this book: please, please, please do *not* read the introduction. (If you receive the 25th anniversary edition that I received, there is a 10 page introduction by a separate author.)
Reading the introduction inhibited my enjoyment of this book. The introduction is ridiculously academic. It cross-references this novel with Mephistopheles, Borges, and Gnosticism, and uses phrases like "brilliant palette of estrangement" and "fusing inimical styles into something sui generis." What? What the serious what?
After getting bogged down in the intellectuality of the introduction, I spent the first several chapters of the book trying to relate any of Delillo's prose with *anything* mentioned in the introduction. It was an exhausting distraction. I finally detached myself from the introduction, and from then on I truly fell in love with this novel.
The White Noise of the title refers of course to so much radio and TV chatter (waves and radiation), ubiquitous consumer ads and grocery products, and the general mishegas expounded and discussed by many of his characters; but the term is also offered as a conjecture for death. What is death like, wonder university professor Jack Gladney (who spearheads a department of Hitler studies) and his fourth wife Babbette (whose "fanatical blond mop" of hair and ample size give her "a certain seriousness"), could it all be nothing but a steady hiss of noise forever and ever?
After an entire episode parodying a catastrophic massive chemical leak which is eventually dubbed The Airborne Toxic Event, DeLillo logically ties in the theme of thanatophobia (death anxiety), but subsequently throws in a few twists here and there, involving pharmaceuticals and German nuns.
You can see flashes here of the author's later work as he seems often to: veer off topic, use non-sequitur and absurdist plot, yet with strong characterizations and interlacing motifs, satisfactorily link everything together in time for his ultimate scene.
I was mesmerized by the language and completely charmed by the dialogue -- especially conversations between the protagonist (Jack) and his young son, Heinrich, who often enough seems to be the parent rather than the child.
“It’s going to rain tonight,” says Heinrich in the car on the way to school.
“It’s raining now,” says Jack.
(Long descriptive paragraph about driving him to school in the rain).
“Look at the windshield,” Jack says. “Is that rain or isn’t it?”
“I’m only telling you what they said.”
(Long descriptive paragraph on the unreliability of our senses).
“Is it raining,” Jack says, “or isn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t want to have to say.”
“What if someone held a gun to your head?”
Long two sided satirical conversation between father and son on rain, truth, philosophy, sophistry, solar systems, the elusiveness of time, language as illusion, uncertainty and chaos, ending with:
“I watched him walk through the downpour to the school entrance.”
If you’ve ever raised a willful child (meaning hard-headed, smart and contrary), this conversation will ring true and hilarious.
The children in this book are bright, watchful, intuitive, joyful and disarming. They reveal what the essence of life should be, I think, while the adults muddle their way in and out of their paranoid fear of death; they are the children -- afraid of the dark.
This book is not exactly a romp, though it is very funny in parts. I loved it, not for its wisdom, not for its meditation on death or the answer to death – existentialism, but for the free exploration into the nature of modern society, the “white noise” and how that noise may ultimately distract us from our most important goal in life – to figure out what it’s all about.