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White noise Paperback – 2001
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Better than any book I can think of, White Noise captures the particular strangeness of life in a time where humankind has finally learned enough to kill itself. Naturally, it's a terribly funny book, and the prose is as beautiful as a sunset through a particulate-filled sky. Nice-guy narrator Jack Gladney teaches Hitler Studies at a small college. His wife may be taking a drug that removes fear, and one day a nearby chemical plant accidentally releases a cloud of gas that may be poisonous. Writing before Bhopal and Prozac entered the popular lexicon, DeLillo produced a work so closely tuned into its time that it tells the future. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Chairman of the department of Hitler studies at a Midwestern college, Jack Gladney is accidently exposed to a cloud of noxious chemicals, part of a world of the future that is doomed because of misused technology, artifical products and foods, and overpopulation. PW appreciated DeLillo's "bleak, ironic" vision, calling it "not so much a tragic view of history as a macabre one." January
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.