Jeff's Reviews > Underworld

Underworld by Don DeLillo
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M 50x66
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Jul 14, 2009

it was amazing

"Underworld" marks the end of the "Great American Pennington book club", so from now on I don't have to read classic after classic. It can be exhausting. The previous book I read for the club was Blood Meridian. These were great to finish on, and it is difficult for me to choose which I enjoyed better. In the end I may have to lean towards choosing Underworld, if for no other reason than that while Blood Meridian gives a thoroughly convincing and brutal portrayal of (in my opinion) a deep, universal truth about humanity, Underworld captures something equally deep and true about our current society, and so is perhaps more edifying in that sense.

Another reason for me to maybe lean toward Underworld is the opening section ("The Triumph of Death" in the book, also published independently as "Pafko at the Wall"). Quite simply, I have never had so immersive an experience while reading as I had reading these pages.

Discussing the book as a whole is hard. The rest of this review is really only for people who have already read the book. The device of ordering the story so that the reader moves into the past works so well it is difficult to imagine the story being told otherwise. It fits very well with the pervasive theme of characters attempting to reconstruct and understand the past, usually in vain. Of course the story of the ball is the central example of this idea.

I also loved the connecting theme of the idea of culture and art being piled on top of itself, chopped up, blended together to form something previously unrecognizable. There are many very striking images that hammer this idea home, such as the opening image of the B-52 bombers covered in rainbow paint in the desert, the artists watching the Zapruder and other films on 50 different televisions at once scattered throughout their loft, the final image of the ghost of the animal girl appearing when the subway cars pass, etc.

Closely related to this is the idea of garbage as cultural signifier. Indeed various characters give long speeches about garbage being a window into peoples lives and into culture. And of course garbage is the ultimate logical endpoint of overloaded, cultural mash up artistic endeavor, where all things are mixed indiscriminately at once. The book definitely draws a parallel between these things, the beautiful connecting image being the Watts towers which were built with "garbage" and random pieces of tossed off scrap metal on display all over the building. Garbage is also used to deepen the theme of the futility of reconstructing the past. Indeed the main character at various points imagines that his missing father is still waiting to be discovered buried in a landfill somewhere after he was knocked off by mafioso.
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