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White Noise by Don DeLillo

By Jan Bultmann

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.



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"Don Delillo's theme of death and comsumerism is prominent trhoughout the entire novel. The character's of White Noise constantly try to escape the inevitable, death. Comsuming, buying, media, pop culture is what gives them assylum. Tabloids and living vicariously through the tabloid stories seems to give comfort to people. During the Airborne Toxic Event, it seemed that if they're story was not on TV, then it wasn't important. They placed self importance on wether or not it made it through the television screens. At a time where people would have onced turned to rleigion and god they turned to TV and tabloids to offer them piece of mind, and to "create hope" for the future through the reassuarnce that aliens would come to their rescue. Consuming buying made them feel empowered, godlike, beneficient, eternal...perhaps sugesting outdoing death by being godlike."


"Thanks for reminding me of one of DeLillo's best works. After writing my Master's thesis on this work, I am just about to begin teaching it to high school seniors. We'll see how they do, considering the fact that so much of this pertains to their lives. My fear is that DeLillo's themes are so much a part of their lives that they won't be able to see the dangers he warns us of."


"Well. I've just finished White Noise, and I must say that I didn't realize what I was getting myself into. The book, at times, was like reading a John Ashbery poem, disjointed...and confusing, but somehow making my mind connect. I can say that it brought out my favorite reaction in reading a book; a disturbed laughter, at times even out loud."




Author: Don DeLillo


Awards: 1985 National Book Award

Availability: Hardcover, Paperback, Audio Cassette

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