White Noise

by Don DeLillo


I’m pretty sure I get what DeLillo was trying to do, and I appreciate the satiric commentary on a very insidious and malevolent part of our society.  I even appreciate how prescient he was to identify the problem back in the early 80s, when it was just a subtle din as opposed to the present-day screaming cacophony of mindless consumerism and materialism.

But all of those interesting ideas don’t keep the book from being completely unenjoyable.  Plotwise, pretty much nothing happens.  Sure there’s a toxic event and an attempted murder, but they occupy around 50 pages out of the total 300, and they both materialize completely unannounced and are left just as inexplicably unresolved.  In the meanwhile DeLillo is able to make snide jabs at the absurdity of many things.

Characters are better referred to as caricatures since they have no discernible human emotions or qualities apart from their one dimension that DeLillo ascribes them.  Thus any potential drama is preemptively sapped out of the little action there is; the violence occurring at the end is completely random since the character never displayed any sort of human emotions that might have explained it.  There’s not even a semi-coherent conversation between characters until one pops up — again randomly — in the last 50 pages.  Otherwise the dialogues are two or more people ignoring one another, changing the subject, or talking over each other.  Nothing is discussed.  Everything is vacuous (again I know, probably the point).

Overall, while DeLillo´s message is admirable, the chosen vehicle for said message is boring and repetitive.  The writing itself seems to suffer from the same ADD for which he criticizes our culture.  This might have been intentional — another way of illustrating the problem — but its results are decidedly offputting.

My first DeLillo experience strikes me as a cross between
Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, and Philip K. Dick, although his message is somewhat unique to anything else I’ve read.  Ultimately I’d say he’s most similar to Philip K. Dick though neither as talented nor enjoyable.  He approaches the annoyingness of Robbins who is unreadable for me.  But I’ll withhold definitive judgment on him until I read Underworld.

Original Review


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