Underworld Hardcover – Oct 3 1997
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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.
From Library Journal
On October 3, 1951, there occurred two "shots heard round the world"?Bobby Thomson's last-minute homer, which sent the N.Y. Giants into the World Series, and a Soviet atomic bomb test. The fallout from these two events provides the nexus for this sagalike rumination on the last 50 years of American cultural history. DeLillo's opening depiction of the scene at the N.Y. Polo Grounds that day is masterly. Unfortunately, sustaining the initial brilliance proves difficult. There are some marvelously drawn characters?Sister Edgar, a vision-seeking nun of the old school; Ismael, a ghetto-based graffiti artist and budding capitalist; J. Edgar Hoover?and thought-provoking ideas, e.g., waste as the cornerstone of civilization and the power of remembered images lurking just beneath the surface of our minds. But somehow the various parts of the story seem more satisfying than the whole. DeLillo is one of our most gifted contemporary authors whose works belong in all academic and public libraries, yet one suspects that his truly "great" novel is yet to come.
-?David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
The similarity between these two authors is that they both showed me just how great the modern novel can be. Despite what may be written elsewhere DeLillo's writing is anything but untruthful or affected. He does his best not to criticise or judge but to simply show a warts and all snapshot of the different ways it is possible for people to think in the world we live in today. Underworld is a beautiful book, funny and wistful, it's not the easiest book in the world to read but every sentence is rewarding. Once you've finished it I'm sure you'll do the same as I did and buy the rest of work.
so, who should read this book? probably anyone that likes any kind of book will find something to enjoy. the thrillers/mysteries will want to know who gets killed (interesting twist on the traditional, no?), the comedies will be choked with mirth, the dramatists will cringe, and the philosophers will be fully occupied. this book, as it were, has it all.
The book is not a complete picture of America; there could be no such book. But it gives a glimpse into the collective mind and soul of the baby-boomer generation better than anything I've ever read. Read this and watch Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanor's and you'll have a pretty good perspective on the dark side of post-WW2 America. However, a realistic "Generation X" character is lacking. The children of baby-boomers are portrayed either as followers or as loners; perhaps anything more textured would be beyond the scope of the book.
But in general there is more texture here than you'll know what to do with. Have fun..
The thing about this book that gets me-and it shares this with all of the above- is how it resonates in the soul, man! This book- lumbering, frustrating, maddening thing that it is- ultimately folds you into it; you, as the reader hauling all his or her own correspondences and shared history-become complicit in all the smallness and grandeur of the later 20th century DeLillo evokes. And, ultimately, this book changes the way you think, and the way you see things.
The book's first chapter, which takes place in Ebbitt's Field on the day Bobby Thompson hit THE homer, to me, is a terrific tour de force, as is the episode where the protagonist, Nick Shay, commits manslaughter. These scenes would have been disastrous from the keyboard of another writer.
Secrets and codes abound: the numerology surrounding Thompson's home run, the clues of the Zapruder film, the secret of shoe making, computer codes, an artist's secret language, the unfathomable DNA of AIDS... All this make for an intriguing book to say the least.
On the negative side, the book does try to cover too much. Whereas a film like Forrest Gump encompasses much of Cold War America, the screenwriters were very selective about what they would use from the novel of the same name: they only used the historic elements that had an effect on Forrest and on the viewer. DeLillo has just about everything here, and this is what I think upset the reviewers who didn't like the novel: 800 pages that can't possibly all be relevant. In a sense, I agree that the parts are better than the whole. But those parts! WOW! Even if this book were half its length, it would still be two times better than everything else out there. Read this book; you'll see why, as of this writing, over 275 people had a strong reaction (mostly positive) to it!
Rocco Dormarunno, author of The Five Points and The Five Points Concluded
Most recent customer reviews
I read this book a decade ago, and it has since impressed me as a wondrous literary accomplishment. I honestly cannot remember the plot. Read morePublished 11 months ago by steffan riddell
This is a HUGE novel, both in length (over 800 pages) and in ambition, but is well worth the effort. Read morePublished on July 11 2004 by D. J. Zabriskie
There's nothing honest here, the author is merely playing tricks with words. His style is boring, pretentious and conceited. Read morePublished on March 17 2004
A boring novel, lacking any significant cohesive thread, written by a man attempting to examine a large chunk of history he is not distanced far enough from to be able to describe... Read morePublished on Feb. 25 2004
This book is great for the first 80 pages. Read that. Then put it down. It tries to be the great American novel of the year, decade, century, millennium, space-time continuum, and... Read morePublished on Nov. 20 2003 by Riley James