John's Reviews > Underworld

Underworld by Don DeLillo
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's review
Dec 06, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: contemporary-literature
Read in October, 2008

Well, it's been ages since I posted an update, and my reading pace is no longer what it was -- learning a new language will do that. Started this on the plane back from Singapore and took two full months to finish it, but that says nothing about the book and too much about me. As for Underworld, it's pretty much everything it's cracked up to be: a huge, sprawling portrait of Cold War America, narrated backwards in time from the 1990s back to the 1950s, and held together more by motifs and themes than by a story (though there is one, sort of, in the fate of the home run ball hit by Bobby Thompson in the 1951 NL playoffs). The themes and motifs here are vintage DeLillo -- the unknowable nature of history, the interconnectedness of the mundane and the world-historic, the role of fear and desire in shaping ordinary moments in ordinary lives. The thing that kept me coming back to the book, though, was the prose itself; I find DeLillo's writing hypnotic, and can lose myself in it in a way more akin to listening to music than reading a novel. There's also another one of those great DeLillo professions-as-metaphors here; Nick Shay's job as a executive in a waste management company provides the same kind of grist for the symbolic mill as did the jobs of Hitler Studies professor Jack Gladney in White Noise, CIA archivist Nicholas Branch in Libra, and Political Insurance salesman James Axton in The Names.

If you like DeLillo -- and I do, obviously, quite a bit -- then this is a must-read, his magnum opus; it's certainly his best book, though Libra remains my favorite. If you're not that crazy about DeLillo, I'd recommend finding The Onion's Don DeLillo Campaign Blog from a few months back, which offers an extremely clever parody of his writing style in something more digestible than a 900-page novel.
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