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Underworld by Don DeLillo
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Underworld (original 1997; edition 2007)

by Don DeLillo

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,55349777 (3.88)133
Member:socialradnar
Title:Underworld
Authors:Don DeLillo
Info:Scribner (2007), Hardcover, 832 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:American Literature, Postmodernism

Work details

Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997)

  1. 30
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    chrisharpe: Bolaño's novel is set mostly In Mexico City, rather than the US. He uses some similar techniques to DeLillo to produce a much more accomplished and interesting work. It will probably appeal to those who enjoyed Underworld.
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    Hibou8: Profound, and profoundly american.
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» See also 133 mentions

English (45)  Italian (3)  Serbian (1)  All languages (49)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
This needs some explaining. After rating many hundreds of read books, this one had me the most perplexed as to how to rate it. I was thinking, either a 3 or a 5. A three>, or a five?! It was suggested I average it out as a 4, but that seemed to me to just misrepresent both ratings.

There is no question for me that the writing in this book is 5 star, all the way. Though the lengthy baseball stadium scene at the beginning, packed with American cliches and the slapstick team of Hoover and Gleason, started me off decisively thinking I was not at all going to like this book, it won me over with its amazing presentation and acute powers of observation. To my amazement I found myself eventually able to see the baseball game (and fans) from a whole other perspective than I thought possible. This is 5 star stuff. And it just keeps going, and going, and going...

And yet, honestly, the book is extremely American, and as much as I'm dazzled by the writing and observations, the characters and content just don't speak to me personally very much. Hence, for me, though the writing is top notch, I can't get much beyond "liked it" (3 stars).

So, seeking enlightenment, I naturally read a bunch of reviews here to get a sense of how others have evaluated this work. There's very little middle ground. There's a blanket of 4 and 5 stars, peppered with shotgun blasts of of 1 star holes.

The 1 star hits are, without a doubt, the more substantial (sadly) and fun to read. I guess the 5 star reviewers are just too in awe and humbled to attempt to write anything insightful after completing the masterpiece? What more is there to say?

I am in entire sympathy with most of the 1 star reviews I read. Yes, the book really feels long. Yes, what "plot" there is, there hardly is. Yes, Delillo is brutally long winded. Yes, it can't help but drag on probably even the most ardent fan in places. Yes, it's really hard to hang on to the thread, and not drift off into the aether of words.

I am in sympathy with those who "did not like", for these reasons. They are justified in this perspective. And yet I am also sad. They seem to have missed so much. I feel, when confronted with such a sweeping, complexly structured, and yet minutely detailed work as this, that the lack is in us the readers rather than in the text. This is a work we really do need to expand ourselves and apply ourselves to connect with, as lovers of literature, lovers of observation, and lovers of life.

And so, slightly ironically, it was the delightful and painful one star reviews that pushed me from the middle of the road into the extremely starry expanse. This book deserves the stars, even if I don't entirely feel them.

I still like White Noise more (the only other Delillo I've thus far read) -- though it has less stars from me.

I hope this explanation of my here aberrant rating is satisfactory (to me).
( )
1 vote tmiddleton | Jan 7, 2014 |
I grudgingly gave this three stars, just as I grudgingly gave [b:White Noise|11762|White Noise|Don DeLillo|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327934706s/11762.jpg|327422] two. For me a begrudged star almost always indicates a lack of enjoyability, usually in the face of some detectable higher quality of literature. In both books I somewhat admire what DeLillo is doing, yet I require more than a cold intellectual exercise out of my literature. In other words, I still don't see the point of displeasurable pleasure reading.

This book is significantly better than White Noise (my review) but equally flawed, although in different ways. In fact, Underworld had practically the opposite problem as White Noise, since the latter suffered from intentional superficiality and the former suffers primarily from inaccessibility. Perhaps ironically, the titles of each book are excellent signals of the problems that await each respective reader.

I won't get too much into the plot besides to say that there is not a traditional narrative, just around twenty characters that we follow over the course of five decades and 800 pages. If that sounds like it would be difficult for an author to pull off, it is, and DeLillo didn't. I guess it's redundant to say it's too long since I already mentioned the 800 pages. Here's an example:The cheesecake was smooth and lush, with the personality of a warm and well-to-do uncle who knows a hundred dirty jokes and will die of sexual exertions in the arms of his mistress (180).Now, this sentence is interesting, funny, and also completely useless. Too many times DeLillo takes his eye off the prize in favor of these masturbatory asides. It's the same Tom Robbins-y tendency that bothered me in White Noise.

It is somewhat entertaining to think about the book post-fact, and to analyze how he weaved all of these minor subplots and various characters into his overall theme of the dirty underside of what we call normal life. He does it with subtlety and artistry, yet the book's disjointed nature -- randomly hopping between characters and years/decades -- makes it difficult to stay engaged. Additionally, the book's length means it took several weeks to read, and by the end the events from the beginning of the novel lost any impact just because I couldn't really remember them. There are many powerful moments and scenes that could have been woven into a highly impactful novel with stricter editing and perhaps more conventional narration.

Maybe I missed the part where the postmodern classic no longer needs to be enjoyable, but for my postmodern dollars I'll take [a:Cormac McCarthy|4178|Cormac McCarthy|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1302752071p2/4178.jpg] or [a:Jose Saramago] every time. This book reminds me of [b:Sophie's Choice|228560|Sophie's Choice|William Styron|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320477080s/228560.jpg|2912834] in that I thought the tremendous adulation each book received was overblown.

Here are some choice cuts that demonstrate DeLillo's skill, despite his questionable narrative/structural choices:

(Discussing video of the Texas Highway Killer, the last sentence here is just beautiful.)Seeing someone at the moment he dies, dying unexpectedly. This is reason alone to stay fixed to the screen. It is instructional, watching a man shot dead as he drives along on a sunny day. It demonstrates an elemental truth, that every breath you take has two possible endings. And that's another thing. There's a joke locked away here, a note of cruel slapstick that you are willing to appreciate even if it makes you feel a little guilty. Maybe the victim's a chump, a sort of silent-movie dupe, classically unlucky. He had it coming in a sense, for letting himself be caught on camera. Because once the tape starts rolling it can only end one way. This is what the context requires.
. . .
The more you watch the tape, the deader and colder and more relentless it becomes. The tape sucks the air right out of your chest but you watch it every time (159-160).

Ismael stood their coughing and Edgar moved back against the far wall. She knew she ought to be more sympathetic to the man. But she was not sentimental about fatal diseases. Dying was just an extended version of Ash Wednesday. She intended to meet her own end with senses intact, grasp it, know it finally, open herself to the mystery that others mistake for something freakish and unspeakable (245).(He's very good at conveying a feeling and sense, without using the precise language to explain exactly what he means.)

And I love this one because it makes me think of 100 times when I've experienced it myself:They laugh and stop and laugh again. It's one of those jokes that reverberates for ten or twenty seconds, bouncing around the premises, one meaning echoing into another. . . (651)A bit of DeLillo's stream of consciousness characterization:In the stronger light down here he could see that Marvin Lundy's hair was a swatch of loomed synthetic, ash-brown, combed sleekly forward, and it made Brian think of Las Vegas and pinky rings and prostate cancer (169).And:They shook hands and exchanged the wry smile of adversaries who are enjoined from mauling each other by some inconvenience of context (195).
( )
1 vote blake.rosser | Jul 28, 2013 |
In the summer of 2012 I listened Independence Day, which I despised with forgetful disdain. In the spring of 2013, unfortunately, I am struggling to get into a second listen, much as I love it, because it has the same narrator (who is fine!).
  ljhliesl | Jun 1, 2013 |
Nick, who killed a man as a teenager, struggles with his ordinary life and the times in which he lives; the ball from Bobby Thompson's' home run links the past to the present
  FKarr | Apr 4, 2013 |
There should be a "read-enough" shelf. I do not like this book. I didn't like it while I was reading it, I'm not liking it while I'm thinking about it, I resent it sitting on my bedside table taking up vaulable book real estate. I cannot recall what it is about and I don't think I even understood while I was actively reading it but it's been so long I just don't know. The writing, as it were, is on the wall. I'm giving up on this terrible, terrible book.

To put this giving-up in context, this book is the only - the ONLY - book I haven't completed once it got onto my list. I don't know what it says about me that I will waste my time reading complete crap even after I realize the completeness of it crappiness, but it definitely says something about this book that even I will not waste any more of my time on it. Don DeLillo, you should be ashamed of yourself. ( )
  cat-ballou | Apr 2, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
'"Underworld" is a victim of its own ambition: by trying to cover such a wide range of characters and situations, DeLillo loses track of some of them' ... 'Despite its faults DeLillo has created an ambitious and powerful novel...'
added by GYKM | editSpike Magazine, Gary Marshall (Dec 1, 1998)
 
This "is his best novel and perhaps that most elusive of creatures, a great American novel."
 

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Don DeLilloprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mikulášková, LucieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Important events
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Epigraph
Dedication
To the memory of my mother and father.
First words
He speaks in your voice, American, and there's a shine in his eye that's halfway hopeful.
Parla la tua lingua, l'americano, e c'è una luce nel suo sguardo che è una mezza speranza.
Quotations
"How is it we did so much laughing? How is it people came over with their empty pockets and bad backs and not so good marriages and twenty minutes later we're all laughing?"
"Sometimes faith needs a sign. There are times when you want to stop working at faith and just be washed in a blowing wind that tells you everything."
Tutto è collegato, alla fine.
Il ciberspazio è una cosa dentro il mondo, o il contrario? Quale contiene quale e come si può esserne sicuri?
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0684848155, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:53 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A 1950s teenage hood from New York is transformed by the Jesuits into a respectable man, managing hazardous waste. A portrait of the decade from the viewpoint of the garbage industry.

(summary from another edition)

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