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White Noise

by Don Delillo

Jack Gladney is a professor of Hitler studies—Hitler studies! Hilarious!—at a small college. The town suffers an industrial accident. Jack flakes out. The end.


Almost everything about this novel is worthless. The ironies are not the hilarious ironies of Seinfeld. They are bland, forced, predictable David Lynch ironies, though with less shock value. The characters are stiff and not compelling. The philosophizing looks profound if you are 11-years-old and have not been exposed to philosophy. The dialogue is horrid, albeit better than the descriptions and imagery. Among the better narrative lines we get: “I fired the gun, the weapon, the pistol, the firearm, the automatic.” But even this stinks. Characters who turn into a machine-gun thesaurus should use slang. Sit-com songwriters know this: “Oil, that is. Black gold, Texas tea,” is better than Delillo’s gun bit. Of course, the defenders of this junk can come up with any number of preposterous reasons to defend it: “The ordinary words illustrate what a bland guy Jack is.”


White Noise features a vague sense of foreboding, or rather, a dull sense of foreboding. This “ominousness” is pathetic. Libertarians disparage criticism of consumeristic lifestyles and loathe counterarguments even more, yet Reason magazine pronounced DeLillo at least the equal of Faulkner and Hemingway. That should tell you something. If DeLillo were a dangerous social critic, a Reason love-fest would be about as probable as neoconservatives promoting childcare vouchers. Those who think White Noise constitutes scathing social criticism probably think the Truman Show is incisive criticism.


There is nothing in here that should make the reader feel anxiety, except the “Why am I reading this?” variety. The reader is safe in his sense of superiority over these characters and that she is not in any way like them.


We could all day about the symbolism in this book. Big deal. Symbolism is overrated. We could talk about the symbolism in Dumb and Dumber all day, too. In one moment alone:

·        The bird with his head duct taped back on represents the main character’s estrangement from society and their clumsy attempts to make things better.

·        The blind boy symbolizes things the other characters cannot see.


What prevented me from falling asleep is turning this book into a game of how can fast can I read this. The joke of this book is not on the feeble modern man. The joke is on vacuous critics and readers who are satisfied with mere pretension. Insane characters are more coherent than the stream of incoherence technique found in White Noise. Not recommended.


Book review by J.T. Fournier, last updated 26, 2009.


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