Jeffrey Keeten's Reviews > White Noise

White Noise by Don DeLillo
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Apr 13, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: post-apocalyptic
Read from April 13 to 18, 2012

** spoiler alert ** I had this babysitter named Bernice who also was the postmistress of our wind swept Kansas town. My mom would drop me off at the post office which I'm pretty sure using the post office as a day care may have been against regulation, but this was small town America. Bernice was ultra-religious and obsessed with death. She had me convinced that she had a pact with GOD that when her time came she would ascend on a cloud in the same manner as Jesus Christ.

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She told me if I prayed fervently I too would receive this magnanimous non-death and get my own cloud ride to heaven.

It was only a matter of weeks later that I robbed the post office.

My first felony at 4.

Bernice was taking an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom and while she was distracted I filled my pockets with every coin from the wooden box cash register and walked the 1/4 of mile home to my house. I was building a town on the kitchen table: a church(cathedral),post office, gas station, and grocery store, all the buildings I knew existed in my rather constricted universe. My building material was these wonderful cylindrical metal pieces that I had liberated from the post office.

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I was new to this criminal life and didn't realize the first place they look for you after committing a crime is at your house. Yep, I was nabbed. The adults were really excited about something. I gave them my best innocent look.

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I got the waggle of the finger and the furrowed brow from Bernice. She leaned over and whispered in my ear "you just lost your cloud". Okay all the yelling and the threats had bounced off me like marshmallow bullets, but those five words started the water works, and guilt wrapped in a furry fear blanket was born.

Jack and Babette Gladney are an odd, but loving couple, with odd, hyper-intelligent children. Jack has found a niche teaching a class on Hitler at the university and Babette reads tabloids to blind people. Their lives are going well except for a gnawing, growing fear of death that starts to create cracks in the stability of their relationship and put strain on the family unit. They are afraid of death, but they are also afraid of dying last. Each wants to depart before the other. Then an airborne toxic event comes to town:

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Not that one.

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This one.

They are forced to evacuate their home and Jack becomes exposed to the deadly toxic cloud changing his fears from not knowing when or how he is going to die, to having a realized version of his death that starts with a kernel of fear and grows into a corn field of panic. (It is too bad he didn't know Bernice. Her cloud theory might have calmed him down.) He talks to experts. Jack thinks about what it means to be dead.

"The power of the dead is that we think they see us all the time. The dead have a presence. Is there a level of energy composed solely of dead? They are also in the ground, of course, asleep and crumbling. Perhaps we are what they dream."

Babette answers an ad in the newspaper for an experimental drug that will chemically alter a person's perception of death. It will make you forget you are going to die. She starts to experience memory loss and erratic behavior. Jack keeps asking questions and the kids keep wanting answers and finally she confesses. This is the moment in the book where Delillo gives me a solid punch to the kidneys. Babette's level of betrayal, which also adds more strings to the plot, was so unexpected I just didn't see it coming. Once Jack learns the truth about the pills, even knowing the side effects, he wants those pills. He wants to forget. He finds a pill and takes it to his friend Winnie to be analysed. She tells him it is a remarkable piece of engineering, but....

"I think what you do, Jack, is forget the medicine in the tablet. There is no medicine, obviously."
She was right. They were all right. Go on with my life, raise my kids, teach my students.
"I'm still sad, Winnie, but you've given my sadness a richness and depth it has never known before."
She turned away, blushing.
I said, "You're more than a fair-weather friend--you're a true enemy."
She turned exceedingly red.
I said, "Brilliant people never think of the lives they smash, being brilliant."


Jack lurches onward after the magic pill and becomes more and more unstable as he spends more and more time in his own mind obsessed about a future death rather than living in the present.

The dialogue between the Gladney family is worth the price of admission to the book. The kids are intently searching for truths and the adults are desperately trying to sidestep the truth. I could have added 50 great one liners to this review, but part of the reason I don't watch comedic movies is the trailers always give away the best lines. I vacillated on the scoring for this book. I was at 3 stars about half way through the book then jumped to five stars. I went to bed thinking four stars. I woke up this morning and have decided, for now, to stick with five stars. The book is full of little gems, pockets of philosophy that left me with lingering doubts about my own beliefs. Understanding a character like Jack goes a long way towards understanding...well everything. I adore my mind and at the same time I fear it. I don't want it to turn on me because frankly it knows too much about me.

"That's what it all comes down to in the end," he said. "A person spends his life saying good-bye to other people. How does he say good-bye to himself?"

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Reading Progress

01/31/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 70) (70 new)


Jenn(ifer) this is next on my list!


Jeffrey Keeten I think you and I might be the last two people on goodreads to read this book. I'm looking forward to your review.


Jeffrey Keeten Scott wrote: "I should read this again. I was new to DeLillo the first time around and wasn't quite acclimated to his style."

I agree Delillo requires adjustments. I could have given this a 3 or a 4 easily for awkwardness with the plot, but I finally decided that the dialogue and the cleverness of the writing gives it a boost up to a 5. High marks for uniqueness. I could certainly see myself reading it again in 10 years or so.


Shovelmonkey1 Is that baby picture really you?


Jeffrey Keeten Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "Is that baby picture really you?"

Yeppers. I was cute then.


Shovelmonkey1 And stylish.


Shovelmonkey1 With a hair and jumper combo like that you'd be a sure-in for a T4 presenting job.


Jeffrey Keeten Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "And stylish."

Yes I was rocking that turtle neck.


B0nnie I was watching the Buffy episode yesterday where Snyder refers to an airborne toxic event!


Jeffrey Keeten B0nnie wrote: "I was watching the Buffy episode yesterday where Snyder refers to an airborne toxic event!"

I just yesterday put Buffy on my streaming queue on Netflix so I can rewatch them from the beginning. I need a little Buffy back in my life.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

The kids are intently searching for truths and the adults are desperately trying to sidestep the truth.

This was an excellent insight in this excellent review. I especially enjoyed those hyper-intelligent kids: Heinrich and Denise (that little commissar).


message 12: by Melki (new)

Melki Tsk, tsk...no cloud for you!

While you're hanging out at Netflix, 'Right at Your Door' is a good airborne toxic event movie.


Jeffrey Keeten Steve wrote: "The kids are intently searching for truths and the adults are desperately trying to sidestep the truth.

This was an excellent insight in this excellent review. I especially enjoyed those hyper-..."


Thanks Steve! The kids were the glue that held this novel together.


Jeffrey Keeten Scott wrote: "Steve wrote: "This was an excellent insight in this excellent review. I especially enjoyed those hyper-intelligent kids: Heinrich and Denise (that little commissar)."

That part of the review st..."


Thanks Scott! I'm glad you liked the review.


Jeffrey Keeten Melki wrote: "Tsk, tsk...no cloud for you!

While you're hanging out at Netflix, 'Right at Your Door' is a good airborne toxic event movie."


Wow that movie looks right up my alley. It has been added to my queue. Thanks Melki.


message 16: by Lyndz (new)

Lyndz Great review. This one looks quite good, I may need to look into it now!


Jeffrey Keeten Lyndz wrote: "Great review. This one looks quite good, I may need to look into it now!"

Thanks Lyndz! With the attention this book has received over the years I think you should definitely read it.


message 18: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller Love the town on the kitchen table and the bricks it was built with. :)

Yeppers, I haven't got to the novel yet, myself, though.... must start training myself to read faster, the 'to-read' pile is drowning me...-and ever-growing.


Jeffrey Keeten Traveller wrote: "Love the town on the kitchen table and the bricks it was built with. :)

Yeppers, I haven't got to the novel yet, myself, though.... must start training myself to read faster, the 'to-read' pile ..."


It's best to commit felonies as a 4 year old. No punishment except for losing my "cloud" and a great story for all my relatives to tell nearly every time we get together.


message 20: by Bennet (new)

Bennet Wonderful story, DeLillo's and yours.


Jeffrey Keeten Bennet wrote: "Wonderful story, DeLillo's and yours."

Thanks Bennet! I was a rather "odd" child/teenager/adult. Even when stacking hay I'd take a book with me and read between loads. I remember riding home with my Dad one day and he asked me "so really what is in those books?"


message 22: by Bennet (new)

Bennet Odd is good!


s.penkevich Hey, great review. Odd is the way to be!


Jeffrey Keeten s.penkevich wrote: "Hey, great review. Odd is the way to be!"

Thanks! Odd is fine with me.


message 25: by Nataliya (new) - added it

Nataliya Wonderful review!


Jeffrey Keeten Nataliya wrote: "Wonderful review!"

Thanks Nataliya!


message 27: by Wordsmith (last edited Jun 11, 2012 06:42PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Wordsmith Great job! Having made so many fits and starts in attempting a proper, cohesive reviewing of Don D.'s masterful work "Underworld" and still, alas, coming up lacking every time, as I remain in that realm of, if may quote you, as I believe THIS was the review I first took note of you, when you were quoting some other reviewer, in a line I never forgot, being that of "a fan...a gusher of praise." All my rapture--glorifying--cut--beatifying--paste--locution--digressing--cut--baseball metaphors--paste, is naught but twaddle, love-sick waste. Will this ever go away? I'm hoping it's akin to Jr. High. Then I KNOW this feeling won't last forever. Maybe then at last, I can cobble out a decent review.

LOVE the pictures. At some point I may even feel inspired enough to fire up the ole Laptop. Once the I-Pad got fused to my fingers, poor lil Gateway got relegated to yonder compost heap. Sad. I hope she forgives me. No toxic clouds needed here.


Jeffrey Keeten Wordsmith wrote: "Great job! Having made so many fits and starts in attempting a proper, cohesive reviewing of Don D.'s masterful work "Underworld" and still, alas, coming up lacking every time, as I remain in that ..."

I wondered when I first started to write this review if I could pull it off. Tying in my babysitter's fear of death with Babette and Jack fears of death. Rereading the review just now I realize that I'm actually rather fond of it. I'm glad you liked it.

I have a copy of Underworld setting on my shelf looking at me rather accusatorially as I have hauled it around with me from San Francisco to Kansas. It has been packed up and unpacked many times and yet never been used for it's intended purpose. I am looking forward to your review once the giddy mist clears and you can see more clearly.


message 29: by Lynne (new) - rated it 1 star

Lynne King Jeffrey, I came across this review by chance as is my want. This is an ABSOLUTELY fantastic review! I'm going to buy this book now and if I don't like it, I'll never read another review AGAIN.


Jeffrey Keeten Lynne wrote: "Jeffrey, I came across this review by chance as is my want. This is an ABSOLUTELY fantastic review! I'm going to buy this book now and if I don't like it, I'll never read another review AGAIN."

Why did David Bowie start singing Under Pressure when I read your comment? haha Thank you Lynne and I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did. Fingers crossed because I don't want you to miss out on all the great, creative reviews that are so inspiring to me on this website. This review was an absolute mess in my mind until I started to write. It is still one of my favorites.


message 31: by Lynne (new) - rated it 1 star

Lynne King Fingers crossed! Yes indeed. I'm going to read this next.


message 32: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope I have never read Don Delillo and I have been meaning to for a while. Which one would you recommend first.

I LOVED they way you started this review.. so humorous

Do you have now all your files in a cloud?.. may be you got your cloud after all...!!


Jeffrey Keeten Kalliope wrote: "I have never read Don Delillo and I have been meaning to for a while. Which one would you recommend first.

I LOVED they way you started this review.. so humorous

Do you have now all your files i..."


I think this is a good place to start. This is considered his break out novel. He originally wanted to call it Panasonic, but the company objected so he changed it to White Noise.

I do have all my files, music, and reviews on the cloud. If the storage at google winks out I will be one unhappy camper.

I was really stretching out with this review. An early example of me starting to figure out how to write reviews. Thank you Kalliope as always for the positive feedback.


message 34: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope Jeffrey wrote: "I do have all my files, music, and reviews on the cloud. If the storage at google winks out I will be one unhappy camper.
.."



Haha.. as Proust says, causation of events that eventually come about is somewhat different to the way our desires are formulated..

But glad that you got your Cloud...!!!.. now, don't steal any more coins, and google will not wink out as you say..


message 35: by Cathy (new)

Cathy DuPont Jeff:

Thief at such a young age? Glad you grew out of that. You did, right? But such a bad boy with such an angelic face.

Great review and you have such a flair for incorporating personal experiences into pertinent subjects in the book. Just so much fun to read...your reviews.


message 36: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes Keeten, step away from the dog and put your hands where I can see them.

Poor Cathy, she thinks you reformed.

Love the personal angle, per usual.

I have read a couple of Delillos, Underworld, a wonderful magnum opus, and Falling Man, which was, I though, a pretty good 9/11 book.

I suppose as we age we are forgetting so much (I know I am) that it seems not all that much a stretch to want to forget about death. Hell, if you're gonna forget lots of stuff anyway, losing that one might not be the worst thing, unless of course it is. We do seem to define much of our worldviews, our spirituality, how we behave towards others on that bit of finality. Sounds like DD is swimming in deep water and that I should stick a toe in that water before, you know, it's too late.


message 37: by Alan (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alan Well, John Gay said goodbye to himself like so:
"Life is a jest, and all things show it,
I thought so once, but now I know it."

And there's Scarron, whose epitaph boasts of his sexual exploits:

Celui qui cy maintenant dort
Fit plus de pitié que d'envie,
Et souffrit mille fois la mort
Avant que de perdre la vie.
Passant, ne fais ici de bruit
Garde bien que tu ne l'éveilles :
Car voici la première nuit
Que le pauvre Scarron sommeille.


Donovan Fantastic review! It's quite the epic. Not sure how I'll even start to review it...


message 39: by Dan (new) - rated it 2 stars

Dan Southern I didn't understand it.


Brenda Worley HA! One of the best reviews I've read, ever. However, there are spoilers. I am only about a fourth of the way through the book so, yeah-- spoilers. That being said, I couldn't stop reading Jeffreys review, it is just so good!
Jeffrey I am definitely at the point in the book where you gave it 3 stars but after reading your review I'm sticking with it. Thanks!


Jeffrey Keeten Brenda wrote: "HA! One of the best reviews I've read, ever. However, there are spoilers. I am only about a fourth of the way through the book so, yeah-- spoilers. That being said, I couldn't stop reading Jeffreys..."

Thanks Brenda! Sorry if you feel I spoiled the book for you.I think we all have different definitions of spoilers. Some people feel even reading a dust jacket synopsis is a spoiler. I try to give a teaser in there that will encourage others to read the book. I don't discuss the resolutions or reveal the twist of a book. I do want to put a few aspects in the review that will remind me ten years from now what I liked about the book. Could it have been the best review you've read if I hadn't written it the way I did? :-) You put a smile on my face. Comments like yours remind me why I write reviews.


message 42: by Ted (new) - added it

Ted Hey Jeffrey, just found this excellent review. Great! I've read only one De Lillo (Underworld, which I enjoyed reading, tho probably most of the post-modern shit he was doing went over my head - or under by radar), but I should probably try another.


Jeffrey Keeten Ted, this one is a lot of fun actually. I think you'll like it. Thanks Ted this is one of my reviews that Brenda had to blow the dust off of and read the hieroglyphics. :-)


message 44: by Marita (new)

Marita Thanks for a really good laugh, Jeffrey.


message 45: by Ned (new) - added it

Ned Mozier I'm needing to read my first DeLillo- any recommendations?


Jeffrey Keeten Marita wrote: "Thanks for a really good laugh, Jeffrey."

Your most welcome Marita! I'm glad you enjoyed it.


Jeffrey Keeten Ned wrote: "I'm needing to read my first DeLillo- any recommendations?"

This is my first Delillo. My understanding is that he is uneven. I've got Libra on the burner...coming soon. When I was in the book biz White Noise created all the buzz, and still is remembered fondly by many readers as their favorite Delillo. It is tragic that it has taken me this long to read such an important writer. Ughh! I have many more writers that I could say the same thing about.


message 48: by Kelly (new) - added it

Kelly Stubbart Excellent review! I particularly enjoyed the photographs. This formerly (?) felonious reader review has piqued my interest enough to snap me out of my summer reading slump and finally read this darn book. I read it probably 10 years ago, but that was before I had electric shock therapy. "White Noise" has been on my list for a long time. Methinks it is time to read this modern classic.


Jeffrey Keeten Kelly wrote: "Excellent review! I particularly enjoyed the photographs. This formerly (?) felonious reader review has piqued my interest enough to snap me out of my summer reading slump and finally read this ..."

Kelly thank you for your kind words. I would guess there is a my life before electric shock therapy and my life after electric shock therapy. The book is certainly worthy of being read once a decade. So far I've managed to keep my felonious activity to a minimum though knocking off the US government was one heck of a start.


message 50: by Pramod (new)

Pramod Nair :-) Fantastic, Jeffrey; both your review and your own story.


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