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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.
"The most adventurous and original fiction in recent times." -Chicago TribuneA brilliant satire of mass culture and the numbing effects of technology, White Noise tells the story of Jack Gladney, a teacher of Hitler studies at a liberal arts college in Middle America. Jack and his fourth wife, Babette, bound by their love, fear of death, and four ultramodern offspring, navigate the rocky passages of family life to the background babble of brand-name consumerism. Then a lethal black chemical cloud, unleashed by an industrial accident, floats over there lives, an "airborne toxic event" that is a more urgent and visible version of the white noise engulfing the Gladneys-the radio transmissions, sirens, microwaves, and TV murmurings that constitute the music of American magic and dread.
- My Favorite Book
There is something about this book that captured my imagination so well that I could not put it down. Don DeLillo is a poet who writes in novel form and each sentence of this novel is full of meaning. The conflict in the book itself creates a constant tension much like the white noise discussed by the protagonist and his wife. Then the tension is disrupted by a series of events, leading towards the climax. This book is very much a comedy but also has splashes of drama and science fiction. It has a classic structure complete with a beginning, middle, end. There's action, interesting dialog, and even a villain.
Give this book a try, you may love it....more info
- This emperor is stark naked.
I had read three quarters of this and decided to chuck it, but last night my compulsive side won over, and I went ahead and finished it. I still can't wrap my mind around the notion that I should somehow regard it as a "great book of the 20th century", given its obvious, glaring deficiencies. Specifically:
(1) dialog that is clunky to the point of unreadability. It's so dreadful that I'm quite willing to believe it's done deliberately. But - assuming it's not just laziness and a tin ear - why? What's the point? Giving DeLillo the benefit of the doubt, and assuming he could have written believable dialog, what is the point of not using his gifts to the best of his ability, instead irritating the reader with substandard rubbishy 'conversations' that draw attention to their own grating lack of believability? You don't believe me? Try this -
"I've bought these peanuts before. They're round, cubical, pockmarked, seamed. Broken peanuts. A lot of dust at the bottom of the jar. But they taste good. Most of all I like the packages themselves. You were right, Jack. This is the last avant-garde. Bold new forms. The power to shock."
Nobody talks like this. Or how about:
"Your wife's hair is a living wonder."
"Yes, it is."
"She has important hair."
"I think I know what you mean".
That "dialog" would never occur on the planet I live on. IMPORTANT hair?
Regrettably, this kind of drivel clogs up every page of the book.
(2) "Satire" whose effect is similar to assaulting the reader with a blunt instrument. Whether it's the repeated use of such tired and obvious devices as the random scattering of consumer product names throughout the text, or having his protagonist lead the department of "Hitler Studies", there's nothing remotely smart about it. This kind of heavy-handed bludgeoning is the hallmark of a very inferior writer. It insults the intelligence. Authors are generally praised for demonstrating subtlety and wit - why should DeLillo be held to a lower standard?
(3) The abysmal dialog is symptomatic of a related problem - the characters are thinly developed cutouts, cartoonishly described, to the point of caricature. Not to mention aspects of the plot that don't even bother to approximate reality (did you know that just rolling up your car window will create a hermetic seal, preventing any and all gas exchange with the outside world?). Again, hardly qualities we associate with good writing.
So I'm left with the question - why is DeLillo, who was praised to the skies for this excuse for a book, given a pass? At best, (if one believes he is capable of writing well) in this book he's being incredibly lazy and just phoning it in. Another possibility is that he's genuinely incompetent and actually mistakes his cartoonish efforts here for genuine wit. Either way, why should he be held to a lower critical standard?
Because that's what seems to happen with this book. People acknowledge that it is poorly written, with characters that border on caricature, that it's hard to read, then go ahead and give it 4 or 5 stars anyway. Why?
If you are a fan of this book (and obviously they are legion), instead of reflexively giving this review a 'non-helpful' vote just because you disagree with its content, why not leave a comment instead, pointing out the virtues of the book that I am so obviously missing. Thanks....more info
- "The only thing to face is death. This is all I think about."
It's the early 1980s, and fifty-something professor Jack Gladney - chairman and founder of the fashionable school of Hitler Studies at the College-on-the-Hill - lives a quiet and privileged life with his fourth wife, Babette, and their precocious children from various marriages. Yet Jack and Babette share a morbid fear: neither of them wants to be the first to die. Jack seems to be winning the fight as Babette's recent memory loss could indicate an early slide into decrepitude. But it could also be the side-effect of a mysterious drug - Dylar - that no doctor prescribed, that no company manufactures, and that Jack finds hidden under the radiator cover in their bathroom... Just like Tom Wolfe's "The Bonfire of the Vanities", DeLillo's "White Noise" tapped the cultural undercurrent of its time so truly that it came to seem almost prescient. Reading it now, it's as if facts have finally caught up with fiction. DeLillo's subject in this darkly hilarious novel is death - or, more precisely, the manner in which life in contemporary America is conducted in such a way that death becomes a dominant force. True, there is great comfort and freedom. But the one remaining limit on freedom, death, is unanswered and so it grows like a "nebulous mass", casting its chill shadow across our lives. Yet out of some persistent sense of large scale ruin, we keep inventing hope. Television and tabloids offer straws to clutch at. Sunsets caused by an airborne toxic event draw reverential crowds aching for the sublime. Urban fires lure father-and-son spectators until the stench of burning plastic drives them off, complicating their sadness, bringing them closer to the secret of their own mortality. The supermarket becomes emblematic of our existence - the meaningless choices, the silent waiting, the homogenous banality of the routine. This novel isn't one for plot-lovers. One hundred pages in, DeLillo slyly announces his narrative approach: "May the days be aimless. Let the seasons drift. Do not advance the action according to a plan." Given his themes, it couldn't be any other way. Nor does it need to be. His wonderfully drawn characters, and the sheer power and exactitude of DeLillo's marvellous language, make this novel immensely readable. Take it slow, savour the precision. Strongly recommended....more info
arrived fast and in great condition. just finishing it up as well. everyone should read this book......more info
- great start but weak finish
I had great expectations for this book, and based on the first hundred pgs i thought it would be a classic. But the plot gets lost and over-reaches in it's twists, turns, and subject matter that it attempt to take on. I would still recommend it, but don't go into it with the expectations that the publisher's "(Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century)" might imply....more info
- RE: READ THIS BEFORE...by Beth (review below)
Wow, talk about missing out on a great book. Beth (a reviewer below) quotes one of the great postmodernist scenes in this novel. The questions of truth and reality are grappled with in an amazing conversation between Gladney and his 14-yr old son. It's really a shame that Beth missed out on this great scene. My guess is that she also thought "The Most Photographed Barn" was a waste of time as well. It's true that this book might be tough to get through but it is well worth it for its comments on American society and the family as a nuclear unit....more info
- Cutting through the noise (3.5*s)
White Noise is a lament on the superficiality and noise of modern life and the overwhelming prospect of death. Jack Gladney is the head of Hitler studies at a small Northern college living in some equanimity with his fourth wife Babette and various kids from their marriages.
There is a great deal of artificiality that permeates the book, which mirrors the fluff and stuff of everyday life. The kids are hipper, wiser, more observant, and more questioning than the parents, who seem to be in constant deference mode to that pretentiousness. Even the simplest of conversations turn into a debate over what is meant or implied. Bits of irrelevant, offsetting popular culture are continually interjected in the narrative: advertising, television, tabloids, etc. It's in the consumption paradise of a brightly lit grocery store that the characters are most comfortable. Jack must shore up his teaching position by constructing a persona, including attire, suitable for a Hitler scholar while hiding the fact that he does not speak German. A disaster official looks at a community evacuation from a noxious gas cloud as merely an opportunity for training. Jack and Babette have an endless dialog over the fear of death, who will die first, and how to ameliorate the situation.
Some refer to the book as postmodernist. It is definitely commentary on absurdities, commercialism, contradictions, meaninglessness, etc. The characters and the plot are rather far-fetched, perhaps necessarily so. Some may prefer commentary on life to be more down-to-earth realistic.
- Haven't Finished Reading It Yet
Haven't finished reading it yet, but have been browsing reader reviews and finding them fascinating. I do agree with some reviewers -- dialogue's a bit arch -- but am looking at the book as DeLillo's "experiment." As an experiment, it's interesting -- a novel of ideas. That is, I don't think he meant it to be realistic at all. Hence, the arch dialogue. Actually, I found it quite entertaining to imagine characters in a supermarket engaging in pompous conversation -- feel he was making fun not just of supermarket brands and consumerism (although that's undoubtedly part of it), but of the silliness of academics. Really, it made me think that people whose whole existence revolves around how "intellectual" they are must be pretty terrible spouses -- especially for spouses who are NOT academics.
Really, when you think about it, an academic whose claim to intellectual superiority is the fact that he stumbled across "Hitler Studies" (but secretly has to take instruction in German from a possibly unhinged person who lives in a boarding house) IS pretty funny . . . ...more info
- Pretentiousness Run Amok
Read this on an empty stomach or its unabashed pretentiousness will make you throw up....more info
- White Noise is the Cure to the fear of death
...bit disappointed by this work from DeLillo. As a matter of fact, the only books I really like from him are Cosmopolis and The Body Artist.
Although White Noise is praised as the book that made DeLillo DeLillo, I failed to see the artistic difference from other authors' works like those of Richard Ford, John Irving or Martin Amis.
White Noise is a novel that captures a snippet of time during the 1980's when America still still struggled to find its identity when the love revolution of the 60's and 70's is gone and the technological revolution of the 1990's is still a decade away. In White Noise, DeLillo's characters are struggling with the most basic human emotion - the fear of death. From this perspective, White Noise reminds me of the inevitable consequence of choice as portrayed in Camus' The Stranger, with the difference that Camus' character accepts death as the alternative to the illusion of religion, while DeLillo's struggle to find a treatment of this innate condition.
The novel is very slow and in my opinion has too many words.
I wouldn't recommend it. Instead, try for example Independence Day or The Water Method man by Richard Ford and John Irving respectively...more info
- Brilliant satire but not much character development
'White Noise' is one of those rare books that actually manages to cut through the clutter of American life and expose the blandness of it.
Which is why the book itself is a little bland. That's not to say it lacks in intelligence or insight or great sentence construction; it has all of those, but since it seeks to accurately portray a landscape that its author probably believes to be rather miserable, it cannot tower over it. There is little character development because Delillo probably doesn't believe that much can be developed in places like Blacksmith, middle of nowhere.
The writing, therefore, is precise and sharp, with little ornamentation. And of course, there is no plot, the addition of which, would ruin the book, whose purpose is not to have people get excited by it, but rather, become more sober, more contemplative. Unfortunately for you Stephen King lovers, this is a serious book.
However, the book could certainly have been better with the infusion of character. Delillo's aim is a political one, with the objective of examining the political and social enviornments of small cities like Blacksmith, and as such, people are often reduced to little more than messengers, their lives important in only so much as they reflect the greater happenings around them.
"White Noise" is a lesser, but smarter book than Delillo's enormous "Underworld". The latter goes off into vague, somewhat ridiculous realms, but is that much more rewarding for it. There is also substantially more time devoted to creating actual flesh and bones people, and that gives "Underworld" an almost magical feel. "White Noise", on the other hand, hovers steadfastly around one theme, and as such, can sometimes be quite monotonous.
- Trademark DeLillo: unsettling and original
For my money, this is DeLillo's best book. Though I certainly admired the artistry of Underworld, I had a tough time getting emotionally engaged in the narrative. White Noise pulls off the hard task of weaving a compelling human story peppered with all the disturbing weirdness that's come to define this unique novelist's body of work.
Few novels I've read have been as effective as White Noise in creating a sense of impending doom placed within a recognizably "normal" setting. From the first few pages, we get the feeling something undeniably malignant is creeping in, and that sensation accelerates as the plot progresses.
Definitely a great book to start with if you've never read any DeLillo.
- Like Turkish Coffee
Life hums by and we are left wondering where it went. Don DeLillo chronicles this mystery somberly, with black humor and aplomb in White Noise. A small town, a college, a career, a blended family, colleagues, unexpected occurrences, and the incessant hum of background noise from TVs, radios, supermarket speakers, overhead pagers, motors, sirens, vehicles, and a questioning mind, make up the ingredients of this engaging novel.
I found this novel enjoyable like strong Turkish coffee: bitter and overpowering at first, but smooth and captivating with additional sips. Each chapter seems simple with interesting personal insights, but they felt uncertain and disconnected until the main event of section two comes drifting forward with the intensity of evacuation sirens. I was drawn in to the intricacies of family life and the insecurities of an academic profession. I was jolted by the internal obsessions.
I recommend this novel for its strong and straightforward characterization and its haunting narrative style. I shall read more, if not all of Mr. DeLillo's other works....more info
- Awesome book
I don't understand how this novel is getting endless amounts of bad reviews. I enjoyed every second of it. I had to read it for an English literature course, and it was the only book out of all the ones I've read for the course that I actually learned something from. It reveals so many truths about modern society and its obsession with buying and owning. It does reveal to us how our lives revolve around the media, and how we take things at face value and don't question things. Just like Murray Jay Siskind tells Jack Gladney. "There are two kinds of people in the world. Killers and diers. Most of us are diers. We don't have the disposition, the rage or whatever it takes to be a killer. We let death happen. We lie down and die." (Page 290) We, as a society, sit back as the world passes by, in our little bubbles, watching our televisions, buying copious amounts of merchandise we see in advertisements. The novel opened my eyes to the reality of the consumerist, capitalist American society. I live in Canada, but similar things happen here. The First World is so preoccupied with themselves that they don't even notice what is happening around them.
Like the "toxic airborne event," as we watch chemical spills and similar events on the news, but we don't care. The news people don't care, the only people who care are the ones who are experiencing the tragic events.
Jack's children are growing up in this consumerism-obsessed world, that the media and everything around them have huge impacts on their lives - even in their dreams! One night when Jack is watching his children sleep, he notices Steffie murmuring, and he picks up on two words. She says "Toyota Celica." A child, in innocent sleep, murmuring the name of an automobile....what do we make of that?
Overall, the novel did give way to different thoughts in my mind, and it was one of the better novels I have read in my lifetime. It has become one of my favourites, and I'm sure it will be for a while....more info
- Rattling the reader's Emotional and Thoughtful cage
This is a National Book Award winner that doesn't well match its New York Times review blurb "funniest novel..." on the back cover. There are many funny moments, to be sure, one striking one being the `dueling banjos' professors in front of a class taking turns discussing the mother-child relationships of Hitler and Elvis. But the work matches up much better with the "eerie, brilliant, and touching" description. Professor of Hitler Studies Jack Gladney is in his early fifties and facing midlife in scary and serious ways. He has had multiple marriages, and now has a blended family with Babette, of similar age and encountering similar crises in her life. Murray, a colleague, is an intriguing philosophical counterpoint to Jack, and their friendship is beneficial and revealing. The book takes on death, the toxic cloud, chemical solutions for emotional difficulties, midlife crisis in many ways, not to mention television, medical and emergency response professionals, ex-spouses, shared children and child-rearing and their challenges and places in life. Jack is beautifully clear, Babette and Murray nearly so. The humorous moments are funny, indeed. But this is a dead serious book dealing with many intense issues that are just as relevant in the 21st century as they were in the 1980s. It has the qualities of the finest fiction: terrific characters and issues and moments that will move your emotions in many powerful directions. It is not, most assuredly, a funny novel. With that caveat, it's brilliant and worthwhile....more info
I read this because I was starting out in creative writing and thought that reading well known "literary" fiction would help develop my talents. I should have stuck to the Great Gatsby and the Sun Also Rises.
This book desperately avoids any of the conventional trappings of fiction: character, plot, setting, tension, etc. No one in it is convincing, I don't care about their problems, I'm uninterested in where they live.
Delillio uses their local supermarket as an extended metaphor for the characters' rampant commercialism as their shopping trips turn into orgasmic experiences of materialistic indulgence. At first I thought this was funny and in a sense true, i.e. we all spend a little more time worrying about having the latest and greatest "IT" gadget. But then I thought, wait, who the hell enjoys grocery shopping let alone REVELS in it? No one I know--it's a chore that we do because we have to.
Six months after reading White Noise, I remember nothing except for a lukewarm moral: don't be so materialistic. Great, I didn't need a book to tell me that. Theme is supposed to emerge from a work of fiction; White Noise is nothing but a (tepid) theme, with a few literary trappings about it to trick people into reading it. And that is what this book really is; a silly trick by a critic's darling to help us feel more self-rightous, i.e. I read this book so I'm smarter than the rest of you. ...more info
- here's the problem.....
This book was amazing, for those of you who get it, awesome, all of us think on the same level, for those who dont, the problem might be that you are too caught up in the pop-culture that this book talks about so much to even realize that this book is a slap in the face to you. Maybe you should let go of these "truths" about life that you have come to believe over time and realize that there is more, stop being so closed-minded. I think that DeLillo has brought the ugly truths about our society into the spotlight and some of you just can't deal with it. Don't get mad at the book, some parts may be redundant, but listen to how you hold a conversation sometime? I'm willing to bet that you will be shocked when you hear something that sounds a lot like conversations from the book......more info
- The white noise of death
Delillo is a novelist ideas, and White noise is full of them. The protagonist, Jack Gladney is a neurotic, vain and somewhat ridiculous man, the professor of Hitler Studies at Blacksmith College. He is anxious about his indistinct identity, and suffers from a perpetual fear of death, which is manifested in the white noise of technology, consumerism and waste that is all around him.
The characterisation is not great in this novel, as other reviewers have pointed out, many of the characters are cardboard cut out urban intellectuals who serve the structural purpose of being mouthpieces for a range of ideas that Delillo clearly wishes to espouse.
However I believe the novel triumphs becuase of the range and intelligence of these ideas, and also the slippery, shadow sliding style, each successive paragraph, and even sometimes sentences veer off in a new direction so the narrative always fizzes with intellectual pyrotechnics.
White Noise is one of the best novels to engage intelligently with the popular culture of the 1980s. A large debt is paid to the French social theoriest Bauadrillard and his notion of the simulacrum replacing reality. A notable scene has Jack visit the 'most photographed barn in America' - where tourists take pictures of other tourists taking pictures, and following the centerpiece 'airborne toxic event' that occurs near the middle of the book, the SIMUVAC emergency procedure uses the real event as practice for the simulation.
Hitler features prominently throughout the novel as well - at one point he is discussed as a popular culture icon, while Elvis is raised to the status of key historical figure. Corporate consumerism and the power of advertising also loom large - the specialist, seductive language that lures Jack into seeking solace in material purchases, the order and systems of supermarkets, the TV slogans, the role of the media and how people form a media even in areas where there is no media.
Then there is an interesting post modern take on the structure of the family. Jack and his wife Babette engage in debates filled with wrongheaded 'facts', at point the family is referred to as 'the cradle of the world's misinformation'.
There is much more to mull over, all set against the white noise of drugs, technology, toxins and radio waves that have the effect of microwaving the brain, the sinister heralds of death that count down every day. I would seriously recommend this novel to readers who enjoy their fiction heavily spiced with intellectulal and cranky takes on popular culture. Thinking about Delillo's novel, I can feel the white light from the anglepoise bearing down on my head, and the low hum from the computer monitor. I had better stop......more info
- My new favorite book, I can't stop thinking about it!
I won't waste time going over the plot and the book's many themes and corresponding merits; I think other reviewers have covered everything I would say. However, I was compelled to write my first Amazon review because I am truly perplexed by the comments that this book was difficult to get through...??? I couldn't put the book down. I didn't find it particularly challenging to read (though the multiple layers of meaning have kept me chewing on this book for months after reading it). I have never been so thrilled by a book. I felt as though DeLillo had tapped into some part of my brain to express musings I hadn't fully realized had been with me since childhood. Brilliant! Oh and did I mention that this is perhaps the funniest book ever written!...more info
- Beautiful payoff
I'll admit this one can drag a bit in many places, I put it on the back burner 3 times before finishing it. But once you get to the end it really does change the way you see the rest of the book and makes you want to read it again. If you meet someone who says it was pretentious ask them if they finished it. The author is clearly in on the truth about his charactors and people like them in real life....more info
- READ BEFORE YOU BUY OR CONSIDER READING THIS BOOK
First off, I don't understand why so many people think this book is that good. It was recommended to me that I read this list of books to prepare me for college courses I'm taking; White Noise was one of them.
From reading all the positive reviews, I thought it was going to be enjoyable. How wrong I was. Even in the beginning there were these redundant conversations, such as this one on page 22:
"Look at the windshield, is that rain or isn't it?"
..."Just because it's on the radio doesn't mean we have to suspend belief in the evidence of our senses."
..."Is it raining or isn't it?"
"I wouldn't want to have to say."
"What if someone held a gun to your head?"
"Someone. A man in a trenchcoat and smoky glasses. He holds a gun to your head and says, 'Is it raining or isn't it? All you have to do is tell the truth and I'll put away my gun and take the next flight out of here.'"
"What truth does he want? Does he want the truth of someone traveling at the speed of light in another galaxy? Does he want the truth of someone in orbit of a neutron star? Maybe if these people could see us through a telescope we might look like we were 2'2" tall and it might be raining yesterday instead of today."
"He's holding the gun to YOUR head. He wants your truth."
"What good is my truth? What if this guy comes from a planet in a whole different solar system..."
"His name is Frank J. Smalley and he comes from St. Louis."
"He wants to know if it's raining NOW, at this very minute?"
"Here and now. That's right."
"Is there such a thing as now? 'Now' comes and goes as soon as you say it. How can I say it's raining now if your so-called 'now' becomes 'then' as soon as I say it?"
If I had realized this book is packed full with those kind of boring,long conversations, I wouldn't have read it in the first place. That conversation was supposed to be between the main character Jack and his fourteen year old son Heinrich.
This book bored me to tears until the 38th chapter. There's too much in it that has little or nothing to do with the plot, which is basically about this family's obsessive fear of death. They're so afraid, they aren't even living! Their life is bland! Jack's wife Babette gets her hands on some anti fear drugs and takes them even though she's well aware of the risky side effects. In return, she sleeps with a man she calls "Mr. Gray," and the rest of the novel is Jack searching for more information about the shady character. Overall, I loathed this book with a passion. Now that you are informed with some of the contents of the book, I hope you can choose if you're still interested in it or not.
I can't believe how many poor reviews this novel is receiving. I absolutely adore this book. I thought it was brilliant. The writing is great and the dry sense of humor kept me laughing. This was one of the few books that really made me think. I'm a literature major and there have been many times where I'll like and appreciate a book, but it doesn't mean much to me ... it's just another novel in collection. But this book was moving. It really changed my outlook and my perceptions of life. It wasn't life altering or anything ... but it definitely made me think about things I didn't think about before. Plus, it's just a great read. It's fun and flowing. I found it hard to put down. Utterly enjoyable....more info