One master-passion in the br east, like Aaron's serpent, swallows all the rest. A. Pope
I just finished what to me is likely the most far-reaching American novel in terms of its scope, spanning the 1950s through the 1990s and covering a wide range of American topics, from baseball to solid waste disposal, U.S. nuclear weapons and the Soviet atomic weapons program (i.e., nuclear proliferation), guns, graffiti, the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, the Cuban Missile Crisis, drug addiction, AIDS, marital infidelity, and pulling in a litany of American legends like Lenny Bruce, J. Edgar Hoover and Frank Sinatra.
The novel opens with a lengthy prologue (perhaps the longest I've read) set primarily on October 3, 1951 at the New York Giants' home field, the Upper Manhattan Polo Grounds in a renowned game with the Brooklyn Dodgers to decide the National League pennant winner to play in the World Series. In the bottom of the 9th inning, the Dodgers were up 4-2, and two men were on base when a player named Bobby Thomson stepped up to the plate and hit a 3-run walk-off (game ending) homerun to give the Giants the win 5-4.
The homer has gained a sort of mythical status among baseball fans (such as myself), known as "The Shot Heard 'Round the World." The whereabouts of that baseball is still unknown in real life. But DeLillo creates a young fellow who skipped school and sneaked into the game and a scenario in which this student named Cotter Martin is befriended by an older man and we follow their conversation through parts of the game. The homer is initially caught by the older guy and Cotter wrests the ball away from him and runs home. Yet his father, a drunk, takes the ball out of his room as Cotter sleeps and sells it for $32.45.
The remainder of the book follows a very nonlinear narrative, mostly about a guy named Nick Shay who is an executive VP at a waste disposal company. Shay grew up in Brooklyn. And his life is slowly unfolded, where we learn that he shot a guy when he was a juvenile, around the same time as he was having an affair with a 30-something married woman. DeLillo writes as if he's a bit repressed when it comes to carnal relations. Nick messes around on his wife and his best friend/co-worker is having an affair with Nick's wife.
While Nick is the novel's centerpiece, DeLillo blends in a number of themes (some of which are listed above) and integrates a mosaic of memorable luminaries, the primary two being Hoover and Bruce. Several times, he goes to bits of Bruce's routines in the early 1960s slamming and riffing on the Cuban Missile crisis and nuclear proliferation. Part of Lenny Bruce's routine discussing a guy (generally speaking) on a date :
"you're thinking all the universal things men have always thought about and said to each other, get in her pants? did you get in? did you get some? did you make it? how far'd you get? how far'd she go? is she an easy lay? is she a good hump? is she a piece? did you get a piece? it's like the language of yard goods, piece goods, you can make her, she can be made, it's like a garment factory, ... he's a makeout artist, she's a piece, ....[**]
The Underworld Hoover likes sneaking little peaks at his right-hand man showering and changing.
The titles of most of the parts are quite memorable, including the DuPont ad slogan, "Better Things for Better Living Through Chemistry," and the song titles, "Long Tall Sally," by Little Richard, and an infamous Rolling Stones song, not released on any album, called "Cocksucker Blues." The title of the prologue was "The Triumph of Death," a 16th Century oil painting by Dutch artist Pieter Brugel the Elder.
I don't know if I subscribe to this being "The Great American Novel," as a couple of critics have claimed, yet I don't think it's too far off, with such a clever and cunning layout to the book, an intelligent treatment of a number of American themes, drawing in a number of known characters, and its imaginative breadth. My only complaints were that the nonlinear narrative is a little hard to follow and the dialogue of what seems to be a conversation in which two people are talking but it sure doesn't seem like they're conversing with each other, which gets on my nerves.
**-- I'll admit I heard this type of banter in college, and will further plead no contest to having said at least one of these things to close friends when I was fourteen and didn't even know what a piece was [seriously, but realize that I was 14 in 1979]. Yet, I can swear that in my numerous years in grade school locker rooms or in a group of beer-fueled college buddies swapping juvenile tales, I never once heard a guy say that he grabbed a girl by her crotch or her breast. Never. At 14, in 1979, I knew better than to ever touch a girl there or there.
Nonetheless, we have a man one step away from being elected POTUS who thought he was entitled to do that, in his late 50s, in the aughts. Or, at the least, joked about doing that? Wow. SMH. Where are the social conservatives, those who argue for censorship in schools to protect kids from smut? Shouldn't they be raising a ruckus? No, they are too busy trying to sell BS from Trump about how 9 women, each and every one of them, are lying and how SNL is part of a grand conspiracy to steal the election from a brazen, irreligious New Yorker. Hypocrisy? Absurdity? Grotesquery? A sign that the apocalypse is upon us?
I thought this would be an interesting book, and the individual stories are very well told. However I'm 10 hours into it and am so lost I had to stop listening.
Probably, I like his writing
I might. A movie would probably draw the story together more.
I found this novel to be a complex marathon of stories set in the second part of XX Century America. While the tread of the story seems to follow a set of characters, the truth is that there is no single story been narrated but a collection of them. Characters come and go as the book matures and then are lost in the maze of the timeline. I liked the book but I failed to grasp its greatness.
This was my first engagement with the works of, Don DeLillo. It was at first a challenge to find rhythm but not for long.
DeLillo paints a portrait here more than telling a story. He makes sure the reader/listener is right in the center of each scene from the types of paper floating around in an October ballgame to the night movements and works of a master graffiti artist to the smell and vision of massive waste dumps to the detonation of atomic bombs, you are an insider not a consumer of this masterpiece. You smell, hear, see, feel the sweat, tension, passion, fear and desperation of a nation railing toward collapse.
The writer presents his material as a sociologist, psychologist, cultural anthropologist, artist, conversationalist and certainly as a master of his craft.
Ghost writer of over 100 unpublished works...;).
Perhaps if I had taken the time to pause every few minutes to really think about the implications of each passage...the way storylines touch tangentially and the underworld theme...what's beneath, what's just behind the face...consistently recurring, I may have enjoyed the book more.
But there's a reason I didn't. The writing wasn't interesting. Frankly, I didn't care enough to. I just didn't get DeLilo here. I couldn't follow him down. I quite enjoyed White Noise, but I can't say the same for Underworld.
And there's no blaming the narrator here. I think Poe did really well with the characters. I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for more of his work.
Brief synopsis: Baseball. Garbage. Art. More baseball. Frank Sinatra. Serial killer. Atom bomb. Infidelity. A baseball game. J. Edgar Hoover. Condoms. Mafia. German movie. Jesuit. Baseball.
My advice? Unless you know what you're getting into, skip this one. Also, if you're expecting postmod a la Pynchon, you won't find it here. It looks like a lot of postmodern works, with different storylines and timelines...but in my opinion that's a result of postmodern writing, not the goal.
Absolutely. In fact, I've gone back and re-listened to several chapters. It took me forever to get through this as I kept going back to savor passages.
The parts of a shoe, Matt's chats with his colleague at the desert lab, Clara Sax "ride" with her "childhood" friend, Nick's chat with his co-worker re: "dietrologia." DeLillo's overall fascination with language stirred me to many lookups. The sisters in the 'hood.
Like other male readers, he's weak on women. But his readings for Nick and the priest were my favorites.
Just dread of the impending end. It's hard for me to break up with a book I love when I reach the end.
Just additional kudos to the reader. Nuance, accents (not overdone), Poe really evoked each character individually. His voice is narcotic with inducing sleep.
I have nothing to offer anyone except my own confusion.
Great story with an excellent reader. DeLillo takes a simple concept (in the path taken by the Bobby Thompson home run ball) and twists into an incredibly detailed and interesting story about the many lives the ball affected in the subsequent years.
It engaged me from the beginning. DeLillo is a great author and knows what it takes to write a captivating story with many hidden meanings that I'm sure will be debated for years to come.
Not one particular moment. The way the author creates an intersection of each characters life is captivating on its' own.
There are excellent vignettes, but that is all there is. It is a huge work, but just consists of unrelated snippets. I kept waiting for everything to come together but it never does. It is very confusing, so maybe I just missed it! One thing that I hated is that all of the characters talk the same way. It is not only the narration, but the words and phrases are the same, and they all have the same way of repeating themselves. It is really terrible!
Yes, it has some great parts, that are very evocative of the time, and people. The beginning is great, but don't except it to ever again rise to that level.
I allways struggle with reviews for "Literature" as opposed to a good read, I know I lack the gland needed to understand the posh books. But for those of you out there who know the answer is 42, I recommend you look elseware. The first 50 pages recaps a famous baseball game between the dogers and the giants, I struggled through that only to find out it was the prolog, I only made it a hour or two past that so if some greatness comes later I missed it. But here is one example: why does the main dude only want to fuck the nineteen years old more as he grows to hate her? Is it supposed to be saying he hates himself, or he fucks hatefully so he limits himself to those who deserve it? So he either thinks he's a schmuck or is on the look out for people he thinks are schmucks. Either way I don't want to know him, I guess you could say I'm a red neck reader, somewhere well out side of great literature.
(The use of profanity is to replicate the mood set by the writer)