Thursday, May 28, 2009

Don't call it "the red ball thing."

Current book: White Noise
Pages read: 3-99

You know, I was really hoping this book was going to be good. It's kind of science fiction, it's modern, and I sneaked and read the first page yesterday and it seemed promising. Alas, I was inappropriately optimistic. Don DeLillo is so wrapped up in sounding like an academic and treating the world in which his characters live as a sort of No Exit style Sartrean nightmare that he forgets to lend the characters and plot any realism whatsoever, rendering his narrative both obnoxious and forgettable. (Man, I wish I could review books in the newspaper. That was a satisfyingly cutting sentence to compose.) We haven't actually gotten to the science fiction part of it yet, but when we do I'm betting that it will only resemble science fiction in the remotest fashion - in other words, it will employ an unrealistic situation that sounds vaguely technical as a device by which to deliver depressing existentialist commentary.

Plot-wise, we've met Jack Gladney, his wife Babette, and their crop of children, who come from both their marriage and several previous marriages on either side. Jack is a professor of Hitler Studies at an Unnamed Famous Liberal Arts College, and is, in fact, credited with inventing his discipline (which just goes to show you how much of a tool the guy really is). Babette doesn't seem to do much besides corral the children, and that in a very New Age, "let them make their own decisions about things that they shouldn't be making decisions about" sort of way. The children are absurdly unrealistic in their dialogue, as is, in fact, everyone in the novel. (It sort of reminds me of the movie they made of Running With Scissors, Augusten Burroughs's memoir. I didn't read the book, but the movie was intolerably and pedantically depressing, so that's about right.)

Jack also has a fellow professor, Murray, for a friend, and we're given glimpses into Murray's solitary and horrific existence in which he sits in his efficiency apartment, lusts after women, and reads pornography. There's lots and lots of barbed narrative commentary on the consumerism that's growing more rampant in America, including a long section about how shopping is a modern form of religious meditation and, in the end, is the same as dying. (What does that mean? No one knows. It's fucking ridiculous. Oh my god. I almost can't even keep typing. It's so obnoxious and self-righteous and irrelevant; the pedantic bullshit overwhelms my language circuits. (Seriously. You didn't see it, because I fixed it, but I totally misspelled "overwhlems" just then.)) In a faint glimmer of something interesting that might eventually resolve itself into plot, there are mysterious illnesses developing among the children of the small town in which the college is situated, and no one can seem to figure out the cause. One of the Gladney's kids, Wilder, has an attack of this in which he cries continuously for four hours and then abruptly stops.

I'll be reading this one as fast as is humanly possible so that it will be over sooner. Existentialism is so goddamn frustrating. (This is why I never took Philosophy in college. It makes me swear.)


  1. What the heck is your subject heading from??? (Ahem. I mean, from what is your subject heading?) It's driving me nuts, and I even googled it and can't figure it out.

  2. Oh, wouldn't you like to know? The tangentially referential title strikes again!

    Call it pure being.

    Does that help?

  3. Help drive me more insane with not being able to figure it out even though I know I should? Yes.



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