Goodreads Rating: ~ 7.5
My Rating: 6.5
By the time White Noise was published, Don DeLillo (1936 – ) was already an established author, with this novel being his ninth piece. The novel follows the life of Jack Gladney, who is the most renown professor of Hitler studies, and he lives with his family in College-on-the-Hill. He begins to have doubts regarding almost every aspect of his life, both professional and personal, and he makes attempts at improving his lot after a chemical spill releases its toxins into the atmosphere in the town.
DeLillo’s writing style in White Noise is not necessarily appealing. He does definitely demonstrate why he’s an acclaimed author, but it isn’t the dramatic tension felt by the reader or an attachment to the characters that draws someone in to this novel. Rather, it’s the plot path that DeLillo chooses to employ.
At the beginning of the novel, the reader becomes aware that something is amiss in Gladney’s college town on top of the fact that he does not get much fulfillment out of his life. Strange occurrences take place leading up to the chemical spill that serves as a major climactic moment part-way through the novel. If you read my review of Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down, you will remember my opinion that the climax of the book takes place essentially immediately, and then it declines from there. White Noise does this in a sense, but DeLillo uses it to his advantage. He baits the reader in an interesting way and changes the focus of the novel. Perhaps it only appears to be a change of focus, when actually the reader was only paying attention to the minor details of a larger plot.
As I read this novel, I was under the growing impression that it would be some sort of fallout scenario. It is, in some aspects, but the chemical fiasco and clean up is only a background event both before and after it happens. A few dozen pages are devoted to how the Gladney’s family deals with the event, but it mainly serves as a catalyst to draw out the insecurities and doubts of every member of the family. DeLillo heightens the reader’s attention with the biohazard in the city, and redirects that attention to the mindset of the characters. The chemical spill doesn’t directly cause any immediate concern for the members of the Gladney family, but the threat of catastrophe causes long-standing problems to completely surface.
As I mentioned before, though, I was not very impressed with the actual writing style. I really enjoyed how DeLillo approached the overall plot of this novel, but not so much how he executed the narrative from page to page.
“The family is the cradle of the world’s misinformation. There must be something in family life that generates factual error.”
“Is it better to commit evil and attempt to balance it with an exalted act than to live a resolutely neutral life?”