Cormac Zoso's Reviews > Underworld

Underworld by Don DeLillo
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Jul 05, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: great-ones
Recommended to Cormac by: unknown (probably stumbled upon it)
Recommended for: any fan of great literature
Read 3 times. Last read January 1, 2010.

If you read only the first chapter of this book, you will be a better person for it and a quite satisfied reader as well. This first chapter may be the greatest first chapter in Western Literature ... it might be the best single chapter of any book in Western Literature ... I'm not kidding. No first chapter has ever made me stop, turn back to the beginning, and reread it ... several times. Indeed, no chapter that I can recall offhand has pushed my hand to do this almost without choice ... almost as if it was a great short story that I had to immediately reread. And frankly it could stand as a single short story that would be the highlight of any sports anthology and certainly of most literary anthologies.

The first chapter takes place at perhaps the most famous baseball game in professional history: The 1951 single-game playoff between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, ended famously on "the shot heard round the world" as Bobby Thompson cracked a low-line drive home run into the left field bleachers, over Andy Pafko's head, for the winning run. And DeLillo presents it with such clarity, cleverness, and flat-out great writing I wouldn't doubt that many people turned back and restarted the book again. I would think baseball fans in particular would comprise a large percentage of this group.

It is presented, somewhat, from the perspective of a young black child who hurdles the turnstiles to get into the game, not having a ticket nor money for one. Surprisingly, as DeLillo points out, this game was not well-attended since it was overcast all morning and most people assumed that it would be a rain out. The description of the smoother-than-silk run into the park and out of the reach of ushers trying to nab the gate-crasher is as smooth as the writing itself. Delightful imagery including the taunting "bye-bye" waggle of the youth's fingers as he breaks into the "open field" and safely blends into the crowd conjures the image of the author at a typewriter clackety-clacking along in a smooth-as-silk writing speed and rhythm while committing this perfect chapter to paper.

I won't go into any surprise-spoiling details but the wide-range of facts that DeLillo seamlessly weaves into his narrative is truly amazing. So many lesser authors (and there are so many) stumble, falter, and pry-bar facts like these into the narrative so that it seems far more like an amateur weekend construction project than high art. DeLillo achieves the highest form of art and this chapter should be included in any list of the greatest "sports writing" compiled. It is truly such a remarkable chapter that it threatens to smother the remaining chapters with its brilliance. While the remaining chapters did not prompt me to reread them, I have reread this book several times in the two years or so I have owned it. It is that good. It is a real achievement in writing especially when considering the author presents so many sides of the same events or situations in the same paragraph even and yet does not "drop a stitch".

I have not read another DeLillo book yet but I'm on Amazon looking through the used books for another. It took me a long time to want to read another book by this author since I always have a fear of being let down if other books are not the quality of the first I have stumbled upon. I'm ready to risk that now as I have reread this recently and am wanting more.

Please pass your copy along to the baseball or sports fan nearest you and tell them they need not wince like that while holding the heft of this tome. They need only read the first chapter. They should enjoy the nearly one-of-a-kind quality not to mention the myriad of facts related to this milestone in sports history.

The rest of the book is darned fine as well. Not a book I can kill with hyperbole even.
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