These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
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Thursday, October 2, 2008

White Noise

White Noise
by Don DeLillo
(4/5 stars)

In case you've come to the wrong place, this book bears no relation to "White Noise" the horror movie from a few years back. But like a horror movie "White Noise" the novel by Don DeLillo is preoccupied with death. And there is a scary fog leading to a panicked evacuation and a shooting with plenty of blood.

That's where the similarities end. Most of the novel is concerned with the largely mundane happenings of Jack "J.A.K." Gadney and his oddball family. The composition of this family would even confuse the Brady Bunch as each Jack and his current wife Babbette have been married multiple times and had multiple children. In its current state the household is comprised of Jack, Babbette, nerdishly creepy elder son Heinrich, stern daughter Denise, muddled daughter Steffie, and innocent baby son Wilder. There are other stepchildren who appear fleetingly, but it's not important.

At any rate, Jack teaches "Hitler Studies" at the "College-on-the-Hill" in Middle America. This doesn't mean Jack is a Nazi or a devotee of Hitler in any way; he simply saw a way to create a cushy job for himself and snatched the opportunity. For Jack the myth of Hitler is far more important than the man himself. That he dresses in an academic gown and wears dark sunglasses while doing teaching is part of the theatricality of his act.

There's more, but most of the first hundred pages isn't overly important. What is important to note is that both Jack and his wife have a deep-rooted fear of death. This fear becomes more pronounced during the Airborne Toxic Cloud Incident when Jack and family have to flee their home. Shortly after this, Denise brings to light that Babbette is taking some kind of weird new drug. These two incidents force Jack to confront his fear of death with nearly disastrous results.

Overall this is an interesting book, but a confusing one, the kind that makes you grateful for Cliff Notes. I made sure to check out some free ones online after reading the book to see if I'd missed anything. As I aced the quiz for the novel I suppose not. You could easily devote several books the size of the novel to discussing all the relevant minute details of products mentioned and TV programs quoted.

What's odd is that the final and perhaps most important part of the novel is told in sort of an off-hand fashion. That's when those Cliff Notes really come in handy, because if you blink you'll miss what's important in the final chapter. It is that last chapter that does help to put things into perspective.

For most readers, including myself, it would be very easy to give up on this novel. Several times after the Airborne Toxic Cloud and Babbette's revelation I kept wondering, "Why am I still reading?" There seemed to be nothing compelling the book continue; it was simply coasting along on inertia for a while. Still, I think the ending makes it worthwhile.

If you can tolerate the asides, the seemingly random events, and the unnatural dialog then you should be able to get something out of reading "White Noise." Just make sure to have the Cliff Notes handy to help straighten you out.

That is all.

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