White Noise

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by Don DeLillo

You either have the grit for post-modern fiction — or you don’t.

There is a satiric absurdity of Jack Gladney, founder of the Hitler Studies Department at The College on the Hill; his colleague Murray Jay Siskind, who wants to follow in Gladney’s footsteps by creating the field of Elvis Presley studies; and SIMUVAC, an emergency preparedness organization that tests itself on a real air-borne toxic cloud.

New York Times reviewer Jayne Anne Phillips, wrote “This is an America where no one is responsible or in control; all are receptors, receivers or stimuli, consumers.”

This book will make you feel anxious or edgy as you read. Published in 1985, this book was prescient of today’s nonstop world of the internet, social media and streaming media. Reading it is like listening to the hours of media coverage give to a downed airliner when there is nothing notable to report.

Jack and Babette (his fourth wife) share a fear of death that is masked by consumerism and the rearing of their combined four children. Yet it is the children – 14-year-old Heinrich, who plays correspondence chess with a mass murderer in prison; 11-year-old Denise with a well-thumbed copy of the Physician’s Desk Reference; Steffie, who can’t bear to watch bad things happening to people on TV; and 3-year-old Wilder, who seems to be the only true, untouched innocent in this overwhelming world.

The Author: Don DeLillo (1936 – )

Don DeLillo was known as a well-regarded cult writer until the 1985 publication of White Noise. He won Pulitzer Prizes for fiction in 1992 and 1998 for Mao II and Underworld respectively.  In 2013, he won the inaugural Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. Underworld remains his most acclaimed novel.

He describes his work as being concerned with “living in dangerous times.” In a 2005 interview he said, “Writers must oppose systems.  It’s important to write against power, corporations, the state and the whole system of consumption and of debilitating entertainments . . . I think writers, by nature must oppose things, oppose whatever power tries to impose on us.”

His interest in writing has its roots in a summer job he had as a parking attendant, which built a reading habit.  He described it as a “personal golden age of reading.”

He took a job in advertising after graduating from Fordham University in 1958 because he couldn’t get a job in publishing. He quit in 1964 to start writing novels. Between 1971 and 1978, he published six novels. His first was Americana.

White Noise, his eighth novel, won a National Book Award for Fiction.  It was an influence on writers such as David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Letherm, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers, Martin Amis, Zadie Smith and Richard Powers.


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