Our lives, our half century.
Nick Shay and Klara Sax knew each other once, intimately, and they meet again in the American desert. He is trying to outdistance the crucial events of his early life, haunted by the hard logic of loss and by the echo of a gunshot in a basement room. She is an artist who has made a blood struggle for independence.
Don DeLillo's mesmerizing novel opens with a legendary baseball game played in New York in 1951. The glorious outcome - the home run that wins the game is called the Shot Heard Round the World - shades into the grim news that the Soviet Union has just tested an atomic bomb.
The baseball itself, fought over and scuffed, generates the narrative that follows. It takes the reader deeply into the lives of Nick and Klara and into modern memory and the soul of American culture - from Bronx tenements to grand ballrooms to a B-52 bombing raid over Vietnam.
A generation's master spirits come and go. Lennny Bruce cracking desperate jokes, Mick Jagger with his devil strut, J. Edgar Hoover in a sexy leather mask. And flashing in the margins of ordinary life are the curiously connectecd materials of the culture. Condoms, bombs, Chevy Bel Airs and miracle sites on the Web.
Underworld is a story of men and women together and apart, seen in deep clear detail and in stadium-sized panoramas, shadowed throughout by the overarching conflict of the Cold War. It is a novel that accepts every challenge of these extraordinary times - Don DeLillo's greatest and most powerful work of fiction.
©1997 Don DeLillo (P)2011 Simon & Schuster
"Underworld is a page-turner and a masterwork, a sublime novel and a delight to read." (The Baltimore Sun)
There's pleasure on evey page of this pitch-perfect evocation of a half-century." (Newsweek)
"Masterpieces teach you how to read them, and Underworld is no exception." (The Seattle Times)
The word "CYBEX" burned into my eyes while listening to this book on the treadmill at my local "Y" because I had to intensely concentrate so that I did not miss a single sentence. This is not your usual novel - it does not have a conventional beginning, middle or end. The book starts off describing the playoff game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1951 National League pennant in which Bobby Thomson hit a three-run home run known as "the shot heard round the world". This section is priceless - the best part of the book, in my opinion. I felt like I was in the thick of the game with the various spectators, famous and not. Even though I knew the outcome of the game before listening to the narration, I was in complete suspense.
After this long section, the rest of the book skips through time, examining portions of the lives of people who were peripherally affected by this event. The next section of the book is a long first-person narrative from the point of view of Nick, a sanitation engineer, who owns the Bobby Thomson home run ball and is in the Arizona desert sometime in the late 1980's or early 1990's viewing an art installation by a woman who it seems he had some sort of involvement with years before (you will find out later - no spoiler alerts here!). We meet J. Edgar Hoover, Lenny Bruce and various other people, both fictional and "non".
And so it goes. The novel jumps back and forth, from the mid 1980's to the early 1990's, then to the summer of 1974, then to the 1960's and back to the period of time immediately before and after the historic 1951 baseball game. Not only do we view the lives of various people during these periods of time, but we also get a cultural snapshots of what was going on during these times. Some of the characters appear and reappear during these times. It is up to you, the listener, to put these narratives together.
Some listeners may be very disconcerted by this jumping around, and may not like putting various pieces of information together, but I found it fascinating. If, however, you want a conventional story, you only need to listen to the first part of the book describing the playoff game. It stands alone, and there is no need to listen to the rest of the book unless you want to.
I found Richard Poe to be a superb narrator - he took paced the narration very well, taking his time with the exquisite phrasing, and gave good voice to all the characters.
I only gave the novel 4 stars because I felt that DeLillo introduced too may "characters" that did not have much to do with the story. I also felt that he left a few loose ends. For instance, the home run ball was eventually caught by a black boy who snuck into the game. I was wondering what ever happened to him, but never found out. There were a few other instance of this.
In short, if you decide to listen to this book, you are in for a unique, fascinating, but possibly frustrating experience.
Underworld is a great book, a sprawling nonlinear narrative encompassing the great themes of the second half of the 20th century in America portrayed in the intimate lives of many characters. I read it when it first came out, and recently decided to listen to it on a long road trip. This performance is mesmerizing, Richard Poe always sounds as though he's speaking the words, not reading them, with variations appropriate to the many different characters. The audio quality on this recording is top notch as well, all around a very well done audiobook, highly recommended!
The book opens with a lengthy description of the "Shot Heard Round the World," Bobby Thompson's home run that gave the New York Giants the 1951 American League Pennant. This may be some of the best writing in American literature. Seriously.
The book contains some great writing, and the narrator is excellent. However, I wished I'd chosen to read rather than listen to this book. The large cast of characters, the non-linear narrative, the subtleties of the connections between different episodes, etc. made it difficult to keep track of everything. I still enjoyed many parts--the first chapter is wonderful--but I struggled to keep the whole thing clear in my head.
I loved this complex interwoven story; the well developed charaters and how real life and all its strangeness is captured. It's a portrait painted with words. The narrator's voice suits the material perfectly.
DeLillo is a master of weaving intricate motifs, themes, and conflicts, across time, space, and individual lives. The breadth of knowledge--historical, cultural, sociological, political, and psychological--DeLillo displays in this novel is truly brilliant. Although the connections are often a bit overdone (e.g., the nuanced manifestations of the "underworld"), this is somewhat characteristic of DeLillo's style and postmodern fiction.
This is a masterfully planned and executed postmodern classic.
Richard Poe's narration is fantastic, as always. He is such a talented artist.
Yes. There are many different characters in this long novel and Delillo interweaves their stories brillianly. They keep popping up at unexpected and yet absolutely correct spots in the novel.
I don't know of another writer who writes better dialog than Don Delillo.
As another reviewer noted, the long opening set piece in the Polo Grounds during the final 1951 national league playoff game between the Giants and the Dodgers is truely great writing. Delillo's imagined banter among Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason and Toots Shor, who in reality did attend the playoff game together, is very, very funny.
There is a great deal of sparkling dialog in the novel and Richard Poe does an excellent job in giving each character his or her own voice. I especially enjoyed his rendering of Marv Lundy, the retired sports memorabilia collector. Almost everying that Marv says sounds off the wall, yet hilarious. You don't get the full effect without Richard Poe's voice inflections.
I wouldn't rename it. I like Delillo's metaphor. No matter how deeply you bury nuclear or other toxic waste, eventually some of it is bound to rise to the surface. So too, no matter how far under the surface emotional pain and trauma is buried, it still has a great deal to do with what we do and who we are.
This is a great novel with snappy, yet absolutely authentic-sounding dialog.
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'm not sure who it's for. Perhaps the author himself might enjoy it, or perhaps anyone that savors ponderous non-linear ruminations about . . . well, after listening to it for 5 hours I still don't know what it's about . . . A baseball game and some guy that runs a waste disposal company and thinks too much. I think that after 5 hours I should have an idea of what a novel is about.
I listened to Infinite Jest recently, and I'd put the two in the same genre. After having read "Libra" I expected much more from Don Delillo. Libra was so well composed, and tightly structured, and moved at a good pace. Underworld is soooo slow, and confusing by comparison.
Not too bad.
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.
"A modern classic - read it"
I have tried to read De Lillo's underworld three times. I've got 3 quarters of the way through on one occasion. Circumstance always drags me away, but despite this I maintain, this is one of the best books ever written - a modern classic.
It's a sprawling epic that you have to dedicate time to, an ensemble piece that spiders webs out of the Bronx into wider America, and wider life. There's a definite poetry to the way De Lillo writes, he loves rhythm and repetition. The repetition doesn't always sound totally convincing (or naturalistic) on the audio book, however, Dellilo's words are often profound and thought provoking, golden nuggets of wisdom spilling out as thick and fast and thrown away as garbage going into a landfill.
His reveals about his characters come seemingly randomly throughout the book, often when we've grown to trust characters, we suddenly learn something about them which we're perhaps not so fond of - like life maybe!
The book documents the end of the last century, it's peppered with historical characters some real some fictional, all fallible. It made me google certain events and I loved the continually present problem of waste, and junk (the central character is in waste management).
I managed to listen to the book when I was driving, when I was ironing, when I was cooking. I've had a real Underworld couple of weeks and loved every minute.
Maybe I'll even do it again sometime.
A great book. One of the greatest books of our time. Highly recommended.
"Sprawling 20th century epic"
In the end the tapestry comes together enough to give a sense of scale, the encompassing of so much Americana. The characterisation doesn't invite any particular affection, and so the passing of chapters and indeed the whole novel doesn't merit any yearning.
The writing is nevertheless mastery and the narration expert.
"Absorbing and Rewarding"
The book does indeed have a fantastic opening. Then it goes nowhere. This is not necessarily a bad thing but fans of conventional novels may feel let down by the lack of obvious narrative arc. The language however is exceedingly rich, it is no wonder that DeLillo received high acclaim from critics. The writing is poetic and draws you into the characters' situations in such a way that undramatic moments are realised as vividly as any book's most important plot points.
The characters are so real (some of them literally) that it is easy to believe that the story is a historical account rather than a work of fiction and the book provides a fascinating insight into US history and culture especially for a non-native. The performance of the narrator is utterly confident and the emotions of the characters are tangible in the nuances of the delivery. All in all a great work but not for the easily pleased.
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