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Underworld by Don DeLillo

Underworld (original 1997; edition 2007)

by Don DeLillo

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,01358694 (3.89)169
Authors:Don DeLillo
Info:Scribner (2007), Hardcover, 832 pages
Collections:Your library
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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» See also 169 mentions

English (52)  Italian (4)  Serbian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (58)
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
What a long, strange trip this book is.

Extraordinary, and truly unique. Its power comes from the layering of seemingly disparate story lines and characters back and forth in time and place. The cumulative effect is ultimately staggering.

Yes, it's an excessive and uneven mess. But it's a glorious mess. So full of life and ideas. And funny as hell.

My wife asked, "What's it about?" and I didn't know where to begin. Baseball? The Cold War? Garbage? Family? Technology? Big government and corporate greed? Consumer culture? Marriage and relationships? Religion? Ethics? Crime and punishment and rehabilitation? Art? Race? Celebrity? New York City? America? History and memory?

Whatever. It doesn't matter. It's an exhilarating and unforgettable joyride.

Pair this novel with Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" and "Freedom" and you won't get a much better sense of America since World War II -- how we live, and the world we live in. ( )
  Wickabod | Jun 23, 2016 |
The novel opens on October 3, 1951, when a boy named Cotter Martin sneaks in to watch the New York Giants play the Brooklyn Dodgers. (The prologue, Pafko at the Wall, was written on its own before the novel.) In the ninth inning, Ralph Branca pitches to Bobby Thomson, who hits the ball into the stands for a three-run homer, beating the Dodgers 5-4 and capturing the National League pennant. Known to baseball fans as "The Shot Heard 'Round the World", the fate of that ball is unknown, but in DeLillo's novel, Cotter Martin wrests this valuable ball away from another fan who has just befriended him and runs home. Cotter's father, Manx, steals the ball and later sells it for thirty-two dollars and forty-five cents.

Branca and Thomson are never given much screen time, and Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra only put in cameos, but other historical figures become important parts of the story. J. Edgar Hoover muses on death, loyalty and leather masks while comedian Lenny Bruce faces the Cuban Missile Crisis by impersonating a hysterical housewife shrieking, "We're all gonna die!"

Early in the novel it is revealed that Nick Shay was in a juvenile detention center for murdering a man, but it is not until near the end of the book that we learn the details of his crime. After being released from the detention center, he is sent to a Jesuit reform school in northern Minnesota.

In the epilogue, we learn that Nick and Marian remain married despite infidelity on both sides. In fact, Nick indicates their relationship is much improved as he has opened up to her about his past – a subject that had always much-interested her and that he had been unwilling to discuss.

[edit] Characters in Underworld
Nick Shay – The novel’s protagonist and a waste management executive. He spends much of his life trying to come to terms with his father’s disappearance.
Marian Shay – Nick’s wife.
Rosemary – Nick’s mother.
Jimmy – Nick’s father who disappeared when Nick was 11. Jimmy was a small-time bookie who had a reputation for never writing anything down. He went out for a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes and never returned.
Matty – Nick’s little brother. Very skilled at chess in his youth, but then gave it up. He served in the military in Vietnam and then worked for the U.S. government in the development of nuclear weapons. However, he soon finds he is uncomfortable with his choice of career and leaves to join a think tank.
Klara Sax – An aspiring artist who has a brief affair with Nick when he is 17 years old and she is in her 30s and married to Albert Bronzini with a young daughter. She and Albert divorce some time later (this is her third marriage). In all, she married three times, but divorced all three men. Nick goes to see Klara in the early 1990s when she’s directing a project to paint decommissioned Cold War era bombers.
Albert Bronzini – Klara’s husband and Matty’s chess instructor.
George the Waiter
Marvin Lundy – An avid baseball memorabilia collector who devoted his life to obtaining the home run ball hit by Thomson. He was obsessed with tracing the ball all the way back to the game, but was unable to do so. He sells the ball to Nick Shay.
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
Loved white noise but this is an overwrought, overwritten, directionless mess. Got about 300 pages in, less than halfway(!) and had thought about quitting on it a few times before I finally did.
  brnkmcgr | Feb 29, 2016 |
I could not finish this book. I struggled for 3 weeks and still only got to page 500 (out of 827). I guess it didn't help that baseball bores me to tears. My main problem with the book is its nonlinear "plot." I'm just not a fan of this writing style. Still, I recognize that there were passages that were simply brilliant. Three members of my book club raved about it. The rest of us didn't care for it at all. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 15, 2016 |
My very favorite DeLillo novel even though I don't like baseball. I love the way he creates a binding thread of things to join all his characters together. The cover photograph of the World Trade towers is spooky... ( )
1 vote dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (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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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.
"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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:12 -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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