Colin McKay Miller's Reviews > Underworld

Underworld by Don DeLillo
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Aug 02, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: novels

Don DeLillo’s Underworld is a well-crafted read that doesn’t quite have the epic scope to justify its length.

The novel opens at the famous October 3rd, 1951 baseball game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. In the ninth inning, Bobby Thompson smacks a homer into the history books, giving the Dodgers the National League pennant and several of the characters in Underworld a collector’s item to pursue. At the same game, however, a darker future emerges as J. Edgar Hoover learns of the Soviet Union’s second detonation of the atomic bomb. From here the timeline jumps forward to the nineties and each section—with intermittent October 3rd, 1951 chapter cameos—jumps back a little further into the past until the final section returns to the nineties time frame again.

The problem with this type of structure is that the inherent risk of the characters’ present actions is nullified. Since it’s all in the past, it’s already happened, so a section ends and all the plot that has been built up dissipates with the next jump back. Additionally, I’d be hard pressed to tell you exactly what Underworld is about. In part, it’s about the affect of various juxtapositions—the casual joy of a baseball game vs. the complex ramifications of the nuclear world, celebrities vs. the everyman, men vs. women, fidelity vs. extra-marital affairs, trash vs. treasure—and the value (or lack thereof) that we place on things (sentimental objects, relationships, world affairs), but Underworld covers so many characters in so many different situations that it’s tough to pluck out the point of it all.

Waste executive and dwindling baseball fan Nick Shay seems to be the nexus of the other characters, but he is nearly completely absent from the bookends of Underworld. Instead, DeLillo closes with a section on minor characters pursuing the notions of faith and meaning, connectedness and eternity, but it just seems like one more out of place section, especially when I was almost convinced that the epilogue was going to make all that past hopping worth it. Finally, the length of a novel should be dictated by the breadth of issues that are covered, but much of Underworld simply seems like the everyday life of too many characters. I’m still a fan of DeLillo’s prose though, and there was a past gun shot that I was eager to see defined, so even if the whole wasn’t quite worth the ride, there were still moments of what made me appreciate DeLillo to begin with. After the leaner White Noise, however, I just expected more than additional pages. Three stars.

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

No comments have been added yet.