Tuesday, September 8, 2009

#23 of 2009: White Noise by Don DeLillo

There exists, in my mind at least, a list of Must Read Novels that I’ve been attempting to whittle my way through. Perhaps I have mentioned this before.

The List is comprised of much-talked-about books from several countries, spanning several genres. Most of them, however, are planted squarely in the “literary fiction” category. Pynchon. Wallace. DeLillo. These are the names I have seen repeated on book lists all over the internet, interspersed with Murakami, Danieliewski and Stephenson.

This year I decided I would attempt to tackle as many as I could.

I just finished White Noise and I’m not even sure what to say about it. I’m not even sure what I read, or more precisely, what I took away from it. There’s so much to digest and at the same time it feels to me like I read three hundred plus pages of nearly nothing.

Let me get a few things out of the way. There were some points to the book that I just did not like. First and most important of these was the lack of individual voice. Everyone in this novel is a philosopher, despite most of them not fitting the type. Jack, our narrator, is a university professor, the Dean of Hitler Studies, which makes his long-winded musings somewhat believable. Murray, a colleague, is likewise understandably deep. However, even Jack’s children, some of whom are very young, have paragraph upon paragraph of musings on all manner of subjects. So does his fourth wife, and even his three ex-wives (when they make their cameos) are members of the Deep Thoughts Club.

What is the meaning of that? Is there a meaning at all? Are these people all, by chance, exceptional human beings?

My second point is slightly related to the first. What is the purpose of all of the ex-wives and ex-husbands, the children of confusing parentage and the now-you-see-them, now-they’re-gone appearances by loves from the past? Was there a point to cobbling together such a motley and difficult to remember family tree? Why all the former wives in the intelligence community? Does Jack have a spy fetish? Does he secretly harbor sexual fantasies of female James Bonds? Does this mean anything at all, or are they just minor red herrings thrown in the middle of the story to throw less worthy readers off the trail of the Real Underlying Message?

I don’t know, and I guess that’s the whole point of my having read White Noise. I’m not the target audience for this book. I honestly, truly and without sarcasm, don’t believe I’m intelligent enough for this book. If there’s a bigger picture at work here, it sailed straight over my head, which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the book at all. It was interesting, but in the end all I took from it was confusion.

2/5, possibly because of my own intellectual bankruptcy.

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