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

by Don DeLillo

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7,28889486 (3.79)200
Member:alanrupp
Title:White Noise
Authors:Don DeLillo
Info:New York, NY : Viking, 1985.
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:None

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 (86)  Finnish (2)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (89)
Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
I found Don DeLillo's style quite different from other books that I've read. I may have ventured out of my comfort zone.
One thing I did like was the way he intertwined fragments of life into the plot, such as news clips on the radio that weren't really part of the plot but that were well crafted so that they added to the overall atmosphere of the story.
( )
  peterjameswest | Nov 21, 2014 |
Almost every review of this book mentions how funny it is. I don't think it was funny at all ... I thought a lot of it was dull - even an evacuation was tedious. Maybe I don't get it and maybe I would have liked this more when it first came out but ... ho hum. ( )
1 vote kwbridge | Sep 6, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

Intro

I remember distinctly when I bought this one at a second-hand book store. The black and white cover was gleaming from where it was laid, right in front of the store’s doors. It did not yell at me; it telepathy communicated its wish to be bought. It was like a magnetic force, or something more superior than that.

I read this while on the audition queue of Survivor: Philippines. That has to be the longest queue that I survived in my life. Ever. I didn’t feel displaced though because someone, a guy of my age just a few heads behind me, was reading Jane Austen.

I passed the initial interview, where I ranted about my take on the law of universal balance. Then I failed the second part, the VTR part. I think this book might have had a significant effect on my audition had I been able to reach a particular chapter before our batch, which included the Jane Austen reader, who had a lovely British accent, was called on stage.

The Rhapsody

But really, I am not even sure what this book is telling the reader. Yes, the language is captivating, there is a plot, the overarching themes are laid bare, but I am still stumped. I don’t even know what white noise is. I think it has something to do with radio frequencies, which is too scientific for me given the state of my waning wits.

So there’s this professor of German studies, rather Hitler studies, who is so obsessively afraid of death. He shares this fear with his wife. I also shared the same fear. Shared because I am no longer as afraid of death as I was before. I used to be so afraid of death mostly because I haven’t achieved much yet in this life. Not that I have achieved a lot of things as of this moment; I just realized that it’s not that great being an achiever. But I would still tremble at the face of death with a sigh of resignation, mentally scanning the things that I have not done or experienced, like my trip to Venice, my half-polished Concerto in A Minor by Vivaldi, my plotless novel.

So let’s go back to this novel before I go on talking about the outline of mine. I am not going to focus on the plot, which involves a chemical leak of sorts that prompts the families to leave their homes and evacuate in camp sites. I just want to talk about Dylar, that experimental drug taken by the professor’s wife to counter her fear of death.

I think it is as natural as breathing to fear death, but there’s a sense of perversity when you try to overcome it. I again invoke the law of universal balance: where there is life, there is death. So yes, no Dylar can rid anyone of this fear, which rings true in the case of the professor’s wife. She thinks Dylar is working. She religiously consumes it according to the manufacturer’s prescription. She becomes a little nuts.

She is mostly afraid of death because she doesn’t know what will happen to her kids. Who’s going to cook breakfast, who’s going to check over their homework, who’s going to take charge, et cetera, et cetera. She is too concerned for the future, which I think we all somehow share, which is a problematic part of ourselves.

It’s like we are bound to feel terrible after we exhale our last breath. There might be some physical pain. I can’t tell because I haven’t been in a near-death situation, but after that, what’s next? The future does not owe us anything. We don’t even know what’s going to take place. An inkling perhaps, but really, it's just plain wild guesses. Why worry about things that we cannot control? Do we really have to scramble over the things that we feel like we need to do just because death might be here anytime? Why not just take it one day at a time?

I think we all note these things to do before dying because there is no assurance that there is a second chance. A second chance to make things rights, to achieve, to accomplish, to take care of something, to experience what we have not. After all, there might be an after life or a second or third or fourth life, but even if it is true, we still don’t consciously remember the still hypothetical previous lives.

Maybe what I am trying to really point is that it’s pretty normal to be afraid of death. It’s a human thing. So stop taking that Dylar, missus. And yes, she did.

Final Notes

I tried linking this book to my Survivor: Philippines audition because of the interviewer’s question: why should we cast you in the series? I answered the question with some references to the monumental novel of William Golding, but thinking about it now, I don’t think I, or anyone among those people auditioning, could give an answer that would really satisfy the interviewer.

There’s a chapter in White Noise that says something about brain chemistry, which dictates what a person wants and which changes every moment depending on a vast number of factors. At one second, you might be agreeing with all this yakking that I am leading you. A few more seconds, you might feel that all I am saying is trashy. This explains why our tastes change over time.

Well, my only reference to brain chemistry is DeLillo. I hope he did his research. Even if this is not based on scientific studies, it still sounds true. So you see, that interviewer’s brain chemistry at that exact moment of my VTR must have flipped the odds against my chance of being a castaway of Survivor: Philippines. Had I pointed this brain chemistry thing to him, which is a smart-ass way to evade his question, I might have pinned him down and instantly got my ticket to reality TV.

But I really couldn’t tell. It’s his brain chemistry. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
3.5 ( )
  Jphotic | Mar 31, 2014 |
This is a great book, but it took me three tries over five years to finally read it all the way through. It's immensely quotable, fascinatingly post-modern and bordering on surreal because it is so heightened and odd. I would highly recommend it, and I'd love to see it as a movie some day. I imagine that most other people who pick it up for fun are more likely to actually read it all the way through on the first go... ( )
  unsquare | Feb 6, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 86 (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.
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"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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:15 -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 5 descriptions

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