As I was eating cookie dough and grooving in my seat to a kickin’ playlist I made (including this White Stripes song and this Foster the People song) it occurred to me that it’s about time I wrote about what I’ve been reading. (You have no idea how many breaks I’ve already taken from typing to dance. I digress.) The first book I finished after landing in the UK almost two months ago was White Noise (1985) by Don DeLillo. This book made me love DeLillo. His characters have the peculiarities (physical and otherwise) of David Foster Wallace‘s, meaning they’re complex, lovable, yet often border on the grotesque. DeLillo’s dark humor is as delightful as Kurt Vonnegut‘s, but his prose is more lyrical.
White Noise follows a less-than-typical American family living in a small, college town that is suddenly met by a black and billowing chemical cloud. The father Jack Gladney is a professor of Hitler studies who has been married four times and has children from various partners. Babette, Jack’s current wife, gives posture lessons to the elderly. The interactions between these two are touching but shadowed with prospective tragedy as they often discuss which of them they hope will die first. Four children live with them though both adults have a others living elsewhere. Within the house, the oldest three kids have strangely adult identities while the youngest, a boy of six, never speaks.
When a chemical cloud of unknown composition appears by their town, the family flees with the rest of the community but can only leave so much behind. Fears drive this book–fear of death, primarily, but also fear of the unknown, technology, and loss. Chemicals threaten lives while consumerism deteriorates them. Things get worse when the family returns home, as Jack and Denise (Babette’s daughter) try to discover whether Babette has been taking an off-the-market prescription and what this prescription doe to her.
Most striking is the eerie vulnerability and tender affection with which DeLillo writes. White Noise will pull you in, terrify you, and make you laugh. I highly recommend it.