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White Noise by Don DeLillo

White Noise (original 1985; edition 1986)

by Don DeLillo

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,814109429 (3.78)1 / 261
Title:White Noise
Authors:Don DeLillo
Info:Picador (1986), Edition: New Ed, Paperback
Collections:BEN - DIS
Tags:USA, read

Work details

White Noise by Don DeLillo (1985)

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  4. 11
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    David_Cain: Everything good in White Noise is better in Underworld

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English (106)  Finnish (2)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (109)
Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
I don't know why but I just can't get this book finished. I've tried several times, and even buckled down and tried the audiobook (which went better), but I get 20-25% of the way through and just lose interest in the characters.

I think I'll try again, but I need to give it a break. Perhaps a winter book, not a spring/summer one.

Some of the writing though, is just terrific and I can see why this is well liked.

While the younger kids come off a little too "Dawson's Creek", the older teenage son reminds me strongly of trying to have an argument with my own kids at that age, with their inexorable ability to twist logic (and reality) to their own whims. Unfortunately, he's fairly rarely seen or heard from, certainly not enough to keep me reading.
  krazykiwi | Aug 22, 2016 |
will destroy ya

good read. you really go there with him ( )
  Joseph_W_Naus | Jul 20, 2016 |
Thanks to my poor memory, and that I first read this book over a decade ago, I was able to re-read this book and yet feel like it was my first time (bonus!!). This may actually be the book which turned me into a reader. I can't say why I absent-mindedly picked it off a friend's shelf and started it back then, had had no inclination to ever do that with a book before- but it blew me away. The insights the author had about how life was just resonated with me. I found it comforting that someone else thought so much how about the little things (which are actually the big things). Anyway, I loved it then, and I loved it again this time.

Rather than talking about the plot, which to me is usually secondary to the experience of reading, I will talk about a few things that the book made me feel. It made me feel like we (as human beings in the Western world) are kidding ourselves that our consumerist lifestyles are making us happy. This book slyly and drily makes this point, I think. Jack is the man whose comments and observations bring to light a scepticism about the benefits of modern life that many are able to quell in the hubbub of our daily grind. Through his and his families experience of a "toxic airborne event" there are hints dropped about how the way our society is structured hinders our ability to be at ease within it. When reading this book I was thinking about how we are persuaded to think differently about things via advertising and bureaucratic dictates - how we are distracted and removed from basic common sense ways of handling ourselves.

And it's funny! Maybe because we all worry about life/death/stuff, and we know that we can distract ourselves from this by keeping busy and sticking to the programme. Jack ends up varying wildly from accepted forms of distraction, but in a way that seems quite rational given his thought processes. All this is very cleverly laid out and was a dream to read. ( )
1 vote Ireadthereforeiam | Jul 4, 2016 |
05/2013: Listened to the audio version.

03/2013: This is a fine novel. I feel the need to summarize it for you: Jack Gladney, professor of Hitler studies, suburban husband and ex-husband. On a common day, otherwise not notable, he encounters the dread Airborne Toxic Event. He is poisoned. He is frightened of death. His wife, Babette, sensuously corpulent, was frightened of death long before the dread Airborne Toxic Event. She'd taken extreme measures, seeking out a pill to take the edge off death, off fear. She'd found, in a tabloid's classified ads, a dealer of illegal pharmaceuticals who offered one specific pill, Dylar, that claimed to take away the fear of death. She met the dealer, a Mr. Gray, in a sleazy motel. She gave him her virtue, and he gave her the quote-unquote mess of pottage she'd traded it for. The pill, of course, didn't work. The novel's denouement is quite like the one in V. Nabokov's Lolita; specifically, there is a louche Quilty-like figure against whom Jack Gladney must seek a cuckold's revenge. The end is satisfying and almost holy. The last chapter consists of a miracle, recounted in third-person, followed by a trail of pilgrims seeking enlightenment in, appropriately, a sunset. And then they enter a supermarket whose manager has re-arranged the shelves. Everyone is excited and confused. This, then, is life.

White Noise is funny and wise. I laughed out loud in many parts. I get now why people love DeLillo. I'll most certainly read this one again. Among my many favorite passages, this passage at the novel's end, after the sunset, is an exceptionally good one.

[Here's my quick intro for context: We see a suburban supermarket, customers inside. Management has, the night before, rearranged the goods, and the customers are confused.] "There is a sense of wandering now, an aimless and haunted mood, sweet-tempered people taken to the edge. They scrutinize the small print on packages, wary of a second level of betrayal. The men scan for stamped dates, the women for ingredients. Many have trouble making out the words. Smeared print, ghost images. In the altered shelves, the ambient roar, in the plain and heartless fact of their decline, they try to work their way through confusion. But in the end it doesn't matter what they see or think they see. The terminals are equipped with holographic scanners, which decode the binary secret of every item, infallibly. This is the language of waves and radiation, or how the dead speak to the living. And this is where we wait together, regardless of age, our carts stocked with brightly colored goods. A slowly moving line, satisfying, giving us time to glance at the tabloids in the racks. Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead."

Let me put it this way: I can think of no better trope for life on Earth, for lived life, than that of walking through a new and confusing supermarket, surrounded by one's fellow men and women, searching for sustenance and yet wanting something more than sustenance. Searching for fulfillment. For meaning. You won't find exactly what you want, but you'll find something similar enough to do the job. You'll think of your loved ones and family the whole time. You'll ponder the meaning of celebrity lives while standing in line. You'll trade your money (your tokens of energy) for food and cosmetic products; these products will be either passed through or smeared on your corporeal person. And so you'll live through another day. Until one day you won't.

In the meantime, in the lived spaces between shopping events, you'll go home and go to sleep. But before you go to sleep, you'll go to your children's bedrooms and look upon their lovely sleeping faces -- if you're lucky enough to have small children at home. There in those faces you'll see variations of your own face and that of your spouse's. Perhaps you'll see the image of God. To your children, you (the parent) are God; to God, we are all children.

"Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks." ( )
1 vote evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |

Jack teaches at a school called the College-on-the-Hill, where he serves as the department chair of Hitler studies. He lives in Blacksmith, a quiet college town, with his wife, Babette, and four of their children from earlier marriages: Heinrich, Steffie, Denise, and Wilder. Throughout the novel, various half-siblings and ex-spouses drift in and out of the family’s home. Jack loves Babette very much, taking great comfort in her honesty and openness and what he sees as her reassuring solidness and domesticity.

Jack invented the discipline of Hitler studies in 1968, and he acknowledges that he capitalizes on Hitler’s importance as a historical figure, which lends Jack an air of dignity and significance by association. Over the course of his career, Jack has consciously made many decisions in order to strengthen his own reputation and add a certain heft to his personal identity: when he began the department, for example, he added an initial to his name to make it sound more prestigious. Yet he is continually aware of the fact that his aura and persona were deliberately crafted, and he worries about being exposed as a fraud. To his great shame, Jack can’t speak German, so when a Hitler conference gets scheduled at the College-on-the-Hill, Jack secretly begins taking German lessons.

Hitler studies shares a building with the American environments department, which is mainly staffed by what Jack refers to as the “New York émigrés,” a tough, sarcastic group of men obsessed with American popular culture. Jack befriends one of these professors, a former sportswriter named Murray Jay Siskind. Murray has come to Blacksmith to immerse himself in what he calls “American magic and dread.” Murray finds deep significance in ordinary, everyday events and locations—particularly the supermarket, which he claims contains massive amounts of psychic data.

The majority of the novel is structured around two major plot points: the airborne toxic event, and Jack’s discovery of his wife’s participation in an experimental study of a new psychopharmaceutical called Dylar.

One day, Jack finds his son Heinrich on the roof of the house, watching a billowing cloud of smoke rise into the sky. Heinrich tells him that a train car has derailed and caught on fire, releasing a poisonous toxic substance into the air. The entire town of Blacksmith is ordered to evacuate to an abandoned Boy Scout camp. While at the evacuation camp, Jack learns that he’s been exposed to Nyodene D., a lethal chemical. The technician tells Jack that the chemical lasts thirty years in the human body and that in fifteen years they’ll be able to give him a more definitive answer about his chances for survival. Perhaps due to the vagueness of this explanation, Jack becomes preoccupied with the idea that he has now been marked for death. The townspeople remain evacuated from their homes for nine more days. After the toxic cloud disappears, the sunsets in Blacksmith become shockingly beautiful.

Meanwhile, Babette’s daughter Denise discovers a vial of pills, labeled Dylar, which her mother has been taking in secret. Babette evades both Denise’s and Jack’s inquiries, so Jack takes a pill to Winnie Richards, a scientist at College-on-the-Hill. After analyzing the pill, Winnie tells Jack that the drug is an incredibly advanced kind of psychopharmaceutical. Jack finally confronts Babette about the pills. In tears, she tells him that Dylar is an experimental, unlicensed drug, which she believes can cure her of her obsessive fear of dying. In order to get samples of the drug, Babette admits to having had an affair with the Dylar project manager, a man she refers to only as Mr. Gray. In return, Jack confesses to Babette about his fatal Nyodene D. exposure. His fear of death now greater than ever, Jack goes in search of Babette’s remaining Dylar pills, only to find that Denise has thrown them all away.

Jack begins to have problems sleeping. He goes in for frequent medical checkups and becomes preoccupied with clearing all the unused clutter out of his home. He stays awake late into the night to watch the children sleep. One evening, Wilder wakes him up, and Jack finds his father-in-law, Vernon Hickey, asleep in the backyard. Vernon, a tough, aging handyman, has come by for a surprise visit. Before he leaves, Vernon secretly gives Jack a handgun. Shortly afterward, Jack confides in Murray about his acute death fixation. Murray proposes the theory that killing someone else can alleviate the fear of death. Jack begins to think of the gun at odd moments, eventually bringing it to class with him one afternoon.

On his way home from campus, Jack runs into Winnie Richards, who tells him that she read an article on the project manager responsible for Dylar. She tells Jack the man’s name, Willie Mink, and the approximate location of the motel he’s now living in. Armed with his gun, Jack finds Willie Mink, disheveled and half-crazy, in the same motel room where Mink conducted his affair with Babette. Jack plans to kill him, and, after a brief conversation, he pulls out his gun and shoots Mink twice. In an attempt to make it look like a suicide, Jack places the gun in Mink’s hand, only to be shot in the wrist by Mink a moment later. Overcome by a sense of humanity, Jack drives Mink to the nearest hospital—which is run by atheist German nuns—and saves his life.

Jack returns home and watches the children sleep. Later that day, Wilder rides his tricycle across the highway and miraculously survives, an event that finally allows Jack to let go of his fear of death and obsession with health and safety hazards. Jack, Babette, and Wilder take in the spectacular sunsets from the overpass. Jack closes the novel with a description of the supermarket, which has rearranged its aisles, throwing everyone into a state of confusion. ( )
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
The book is so funny, so mysterious, so right, so disturbing … and yet so enjoyable it has somehow survived being cut open for twenty-five years by critics and post-grads. All of that theoretical poking and prodding, all of that po-mo-simulacra-ambiguity vivisection can’t touch the thrill of reading it
''White Noise,'' his eighth novel, is the story of a college professor and his family whose small Midwestern town is evacuated after an industrial accident. In light of the recent Union Carbide disaster in India that killed over 2,000 and injured thousands more, ''White Noise'' seems all the more timely and frightening - precisely because of its totally American concerns, its rendering of a particularly American numbness.
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The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus.
"The greater the scientific advance, the more primitive the fear". Jack to Babette when talking about genetically engineered micro-organisms that would digest the 'airborne toxic event'.
"The airborne toxic event is a horrifying thing. Our fear is enormous. Even if there hasn't been great loss of life, don't we deserve some attention for our suffering, our human worry, our terror? Isn't fear news?" Television carrying man's speech when the family is stranded in Iron City.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140077022, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:07 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Jack Gladney, a professor of Nazi history at a Middle American liberal arts school, and his family comically try to handle normal family life as a black cloud of lethal gaseous fumes threatens their town.

(summary from another edition)

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