White Noise: (Great Books Edition) Paperback – May 17 1999
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Something is amiss in a small college town in Middle America. Something subliminal, something omnipresent, something hard to put your finger on. For example, teachers and students at the grade school are falling mysteriously ill:
Investigators said it could be the ventilating system, the paint or varnish, the foam insulation, the electrical insulation, the cafeteria food, the rays emitted by microcomputers, the asbestos fireproofing, the adhesive on shipping containers, the fumes from the chlorinated pool, or perhaps something deeper, finer-grained, more closely woven into the fabric of things.J.A.K. Gladney, world-renowned as the living center, the absolute font, of Hitler Studies in North America in the mid-1980s, describes the malaise affecting his town in a superbly ironic and detached manner. But even he fails to mask his disquiet. There is menace in the air, and ultimately it is made manifest: a poisonous cloud--an "airborne toxic event"--unleashed by an industrial accident floats over the town, requiring evacuation. In the aftermath, as the residents adjust to new and blazingly brilliant sunsets, Gladney and his family must confront their own poses, night terrors, self-deceptions, and secrets.
DeLillo is at his dark, hilarious best in this 1985 National Book Award winner, a novel that preceded but anticipated the explosion of the Internet, tabloid television, and the dialed-in, wired-up, endlessly accelerated tenor of the culture we live in. He doesn't just describe life in a hypermediated society, he re-creates it. His characters repeat phrases, information, and rumor gleaned from television, radio, and other media sources like people speaking in code. And DeLillo has seeded the book with short gemlike episodes that demand to be read aloud, and that haunt the imagination years after their first reading: a visit to the Most Photographed Barn in America. A plane that nearly falls out of the sky. An hour in a classroom, canonizing Elvis. These vignettes are vivid and unique, yet, like the phrases from television shows that interject themselves, out of context, into Gladney's consciousness, they are strangely unconnected to one another--reflections of the lives DeLillo is showing us we lead. --Jan Bultmann
From Publishers Weekly
Chairman of the department of Hitler studies at a Midwestern college, Jack Gladney is accidently exposed to a cloud of noxious chemicals, part of a world of the future that is doomed because of misused technology, artifical products and foods, and overpopulation. PW appreciated DeLillo's "bleak, ironic" vision, calling it "not so much a tragic view of history as a macabre one." January
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Then a chemical spill brings about The Airborne Toxic Event, in which an amorphous black cloud hovers over Gladney's complacent little town, ominously darkening the splashy colors and phosphorescent whites of the super market which gives solace to so many of the local denizens, not excluding Gladney's family. The spill may also serve as a metaphor for what DeLillo calls the "white noise" in America, that insidious current in the air resulting from too many radio signals (t.v, radio, e.g.), the infatuation we as Americans have with consumerism--(note: this was written during the Reagan era). The novel also boldly deals with fear, particularly fear of death, another beast within the machine that many must eventaully face. One of the best parts of the novel occurs toward the end, when Jack Gladney has an edifying Q and A over death and the afterlife with a German nun at a hospital, a stark and unflinching illumination which I found great and daring, if not a little sad.
This is a Don DeLillo book, and those not familiar with Don DeLillo and his sometimes abstruse connotations on American living might be chary upon entering his world.Read more ›
Jack and Babette's fear of death, the world in which they live and participate is conveyed satirically through a series of events (some of more direct consequence than others) which are peppered with laugh out loud moments. There's a subtlety in the observation and the writing that makes this novel work.
`The family is the cradle of the world's misinformation.'
Jack serves as the department chair of Hitler studies, a discipline that he invented in 1968, despite the fact that he does not understand German. Hitler's importance as an historical figure gives Jack a degree of importance by association: `Some people are larger than life. Hitler is larger than death. You thought he would protect you.' His colleague, Murray Jay Siskind, has come to Blacksmith to immerse himself in what he calls `American magic and dread.' Murray is a lecturer in living icons who is trying to establish a discipline in Elvis studies. Murray finds deep significance in things that are ordinary - especially the supermarket: `This place recharges us spiritually, it prepares us, it's a gateway or pathway. Look how bright. It's full of psychic data.'
The major events in the novel concern an airborne toxic event and its consequences, and Jack Gladney's search for a mysterious psychopharmaceutical drug called Dylar once he discovers that Babette is participating in an experimental study (of sorts).Read more ›
That said, there were some concepts that did make me pause and think for a moment. Greatest amongst these was the section on the German nuns who explained that they did not believe in god or heaven or angels, but felt the need to keep up the pretence for the sake of the non believers, for that was how non believers felt safe: as long as someone was keeping up the faith, the human race was okay.
I also really liked the character of Heinrich. His constant questioning and his stubborn refusal to accept such obvious facts as whether it was raining or not, opened up such a refreshing line of thought. At one point he asks, of what use is all our knowledge / how are we any better than cave man, when we can't even make fire or even recognize lint if we saw it / that when it comes down to it, all our knowledge just passes from computer to computer … Heinrich really made me think!
Most recent customer reviews
I dunno. It's fine. I didn't love it. But it's okay. I often don't love books like this.Published 11 months ago by Pete
The characters,along with the story, was sluggish,uninteresting, and dull. These people need to get out of the house and get some exercise, drink some vitamin C, take some... Read morePublished on July 4 2007 by Rob J
Delilo's books remind me of a listless stroll down a nondescript street on a cold winters day nursing a mind numbing headache. Read morePublished on June 28 2007 by Adam Stanton
With "White Noise," Don DeLillo has crafted the ultimate suburban nightmare. He collects the Gladney family - a highly intellectualized, somewhat socially awkward, ultra-modern... Read morePublished on June 28 2004 by Brennon A. Slattery
DeLillo's had such a wild imagination to write in 1984-85 about the reliance on pharmaceuticals to make oneself "happy", the deleterous power of mass communication on... Read morePublished on June 12 2004 by A. Burns
The protagonist is a professor who intellectualizes his family, his career, and his experiences into existential angst, like a college sophomore strung out on Sartre and Camus. Read morePublished on May 13 2004 by Day Williams