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White Noise by Don DeLillo
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White Noise (original 1985; edition 1986)

by Don DeLillo

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,748106434 (3.78)1 / 251
Member:dylanwolf
Title:White Noise
Authors:Don DeLillo
Info:Picador (1986), Edition: New Ed, Paperback
Collections:BEN - DIS
Rating:
Tags:USA, read

Work details

White Noise by Don DeLillo (1985)

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    David_Cain: Everything good in White Noise is better in Underworld
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English (103)  Finnish (2)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (106)
Showing 1-5 of 103 (next | show all)
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." ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
Set at a bucolic midwestern college, White Noise follows a year in the life of Jack Gladney, a professor who has made his name by pioneering the field of Hitler Studies (though he doesn't speak German). He has been married five times to four women and has a brood of children and stepchildren (Heinrich, Denise, Steffie, Wilder) with his current wife, Babette. Jack and Babette are both extremely afraid of death; they frequently wonder "who will die first". The first part of White Noise, called "Waves and Radiation," is a chronicle of absurdist family life combined with academic satire. There is little plot in this section, and it mainly sets the scene for the rest of the book. Another important character introduced here is Murray, who frequently discusses his theories, which relate to the rest of the book.

In the book's second part, The Airborne Toxic Event, a chemical spill from a rail car releases an "airborne toxic event" over Jack's home region, prompting an evacuation. Frightened by his exposure to the toxin, Gladney is forced to confront his mortality. Simuvac is also introduced in Part Two, an indication of simulations replacing reality. It also calls into question the nature of the airborne toxic event.

Ironically, in part three of the book, Gladney realizes that his wife has been cheating on him in order to gain access to a drug called Dylar, an experimental treatment for the fear of death. Soon the novel becomes a meditation on modern society's fear of death and its obsession with chemical cures as Gladney seeks to obtain his own black market supply of Dylar.

The drug is produced through an experimental, highly secretive process and comes in the form of a small white pill. During digestion water enters through a tiny laser drilled hole in the polymer coating and the active ingredients begin to dissolve, but can only leave through the hole, creating a highly controlled release of the chemical. When empty, the coating collapses in on itself and passes harmlessly out through the digestive tract. Dylar does not work properly, though, and extended use sometimes results in insanity. Extended users interpret spoken words and metaphor as actual actions and events.

( )
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
I didn't like this book at all. Maybe I just didn't get it. Boring, pointless and it just ends - I didn't even realize it was the last page at first (I read it on a kindle). I kept thinking I must have hit the wrong button; that couldn't be the end. Weird. ( )
  Jadedog13 | Feb 3, 2016 |
No ( )
  hoegbottom | Jan 30, 2016 |
No ( )
  hoegbottom | Jan 30, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 103 (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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To Sue Buck and to Lois Wallace
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The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus.
Quotations
"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)

» see all 6 descriptions

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White Noise by Don DeLillo, (Bowie's Top 100 for June) in 75 Books Challenge for 2016

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