Matt's Reviews > White Noise

White Noise by Don DeLillo
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Apr 01, 09

it was ok
Read in April, 2009

I put this book on my 2009 Literary Resolutions List, which comprises 15 books culled from Time's List of the 100 Greatest Novels since 1920. I thought it was a novelization of that movie where Michael Keaton hears dead people. I was wrong.

I really didn't like this book. It annoyed, irritated, and grated on me.

The book follows Jack Gladney, who is a professor of Hitler Studies (a throwaway joke that is stretched throughout the entire book) at an eastern college. He's on his fourth marriage to Babette, and they have a mixed family with children from various marriages. The children are all precocious and utterly preposterous, and speak in television-gleaned soundbites. They come across as robots; think Haley Joel Osment in A.I.. This might have been purporseful; I don't care.

There is an "airborne toxic event" caused by a train accident that forces the Gladneys to evacuate their home for a short period. According to the book flap, this was supposed to be a central event in the novel, but this novel has no center. It just sort of meanders on, a supposdedly razor-sharp satire of our consumer-driven culture.

I initially enjoyed the book, and indeed, the opening chapter describing the line of station wagons pulling up to college at the end of summer is timeless. Written in the 80s, it is still perceptive today. However, the book gets more tiresome as it goes on. There are countless trips to the grocery store, where DeLillo's characters, including the insufferable Murray, can wonder zombie-like down the endless aisles, exchanging self-important banalities with each other. I guess the grocery store is some sort of symbol for our rampant consumerism?

The dialogue is too cute, and at times, wretched. For instance, Murray - who I wish death upon - says crap like: "Your wife has important hair." Blech.

There are some clever bits. For instance, the Gladney family engages in a conversation in which each member of the family parrots some information they've heard, but all the facts they reguritate are wrong in some fashion. It's a situation that neatly prefigures Wikipedia and the internet age, where everyone is an expert, and everyone is full of s**t. The second or third time DeLillo comes back to this same set-up, though, it wears thin.

I really hated, hated, how Jack and Babette persisted in addressing each other in the third person.

Jack: "This is not the purpose of Babette."
Babette: "This is not the purpose of Jack."
ME: Drinks the bottle with the skull and crossbones label.

It should be noted that I am predisposed to dislike satire. When it's done well, it can be funny and insightful; however, due to the nature of satire, it can never really be transformational. The characters aren't really people so much as mouthpieces for the author. The didacticism turns Jack and Babette and Murray (damn him to hell)into theme-spouting robots. I didn't care for them at all. Well, that's not true; I sort of wanted them all to die, so the book would end, and I could read something else.

My hesitation with reviewing this book comes from the inevitable fear that I've missed the entire point. This book is well-regarded and has been well-reviewed. Maybe I'm what's wrong, and not White Noise. Considering it was written by the Great DeLillo, this is quite possible. I think I do get it, though. It's a postmodern critique of our culture, with freshman philosophy masquerading as deep insight.

While acknowledging the imperfections of our "hypermediated" culture, I think it's a little elitist and obnoxious to totally decry it. DeLillo's many ciphers - er, characters - speak in a sort of code which they have taken from television, radio, the tabloids, etc. He points out the negatives of our overly wired, tapped-in lives. To which I say, in the language of our times, whatever. To be sure, there is a certain worrying narcissism in our culture, in which people want everything "on demand" and tailored to their personal tastes (to the point, at times, where no one else matters). It also seems impossible for a person to walk 25 feet without simultaneously listening to their iPod, talking on a Blue Tooth, and Googling on a Blackberry. Still, there are great benefits. I like living in a wired, tapped-in culture. I like that I can go on the internet and read The Histories of Herodotus, or watch The History Channel and see how they built the Eisenhower Interstate System. We live in a world where the most ordinary person has an entire universe of knowledge right at their fingertips, waiting to be explored. Certainly, there is a lot of "white noise" that comes with this often-unfiltered universe, but better that it's there, to be sifted through, than completely unavailable.
24 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read White Noise.
Sign In »

Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by John and Kris (new)

John and Kris Your review is very similar to mine. It is exactly the review that I would’ve written had I read the book and not wholesale plagiarized it from the internets.

Matt John and Kris wrote: "Your review is very similar to mine. It is exactly the review that I would’ve written had I read the book and not wholesale plagiarized it from the internets. "

I feel like your review really added something that mine was missing.

message 3: by Michelle (new) - added it

Michelle I thought it was a novelization of that movie where Michael Keaton hears dead people. I was wrong.

Haha, I love it. I thought so too. I worked so hard to find it, add it to my bookshelf and now it sits, waiting until I have the time to slog through it. Should I hurry or put it off until summertime, when I can linger??

Matt I feel like winter is enough of a slog, without adding a literary challenge. If I were you, I'd put it off till summer. Even if you don't like it, at least it's warm outside.

message 5: by Michelle (new) - added it

Michelle Haha...I live in Blythe, so yeah, its definitely warm out here in the summer...about 120 degrees.

message 6: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Gabogovinanana Excellent review, Matt.

I rated the novel more highly than you, but probably only because early on I decided that I was going to treat it as a dark comedy and laugh along with it.

Your point about Jack and Babette referring to each other in the third person is a good one.

I took this to mean that they had objectified each other (i.e., you are what I think you are rather than what you are).

Perhaps, what I really mean is that they had subjectified each other?

Either way, they were only seeing their interpretation of what the other was supposed to be to them.

message 7: by Stephen M (last edited Feb 02, 2012 08:17PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stephen M I think that this book, in the hands of any other author, would be what is described here. For me, there was such an eerie feel to the whole book and the impeccable, nuanced Delillo tone allowed me to accept the absurd premise. It's all a matter of whether or not Delillo hooked you and made you willing/unwilling to go for the ride. This is analogous to any reading experience but is especially important here.

message 8: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Gabogovinanana Stephen M wrote: "It's all a matter of whether or not Delillo hooked you and made you willing/unwilling to go for the ride."

Stephen, thanks for leading me to this review. I'd somehow missed it, and it's a goodie.

It fascinates me that different fish need different hooks, and this book doesn't hook everybody.

A lot of GR'ers whose opinion I respect hate it.

Stephen M I know. It is one of the most polarizing books I've seen on GR.

message 10: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Gabogovinanana It's like, if someone doesn't laugh at a joke I laughed at, they're attacking my sense of humour.

I assume they're thinking, that wasn't even supposed to be funny.

Aimee Thank you for writing all the things I was thinking. I finished the book (because I rarely quit a book) but I hated it the whole time.

back to top