Brief Book Review: Thanatophobia

White Noise by Don DeLillo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


OK, so I came to this one kind of late, it was written way back in 1985 after all, quite a different world then, but I loved the spot-on irony and profuse dead-pan humor, the innocent sarcasm of DeLillo's beleaguered characters. I have always admired the author's diagnostic ability regarding American zeitgeist. Perhaps it budded here and bloomed with Underworld in 1997.

The White Noise of the title refers of course to so much radio and TV chatter (waves and radiation), ubiquitous consumer ads and grocery products, and the general mishegas expounded and discussed by many of his characters; but the term is also offered as a conjecture for death. What is death like, wonder university professor Jack Gladney (who spearheads a department of Hitler studies) and his fourth wife Babbette (whose "fanatical blond mop" of hair and ample size give her "a certain seriousness"), could it all be nothing but a steady hiss of noise forever and ever?

After an entire episode parodying a catastrophic massive chemical leak which is eventually dubbed The Airborne Toxic Event, DeLillo logically ties in the theme of thanatophobia (death anxiety), but subsequently throws in a few twists here and there, involving pharmaceuticals and German nuns.

You can see flashes here of the author's later work as he seems often to: veer off topic, use non-sequitur and absurdist plot, yet with strong characterizations and interlacing motifs, satisfactorily link everything together in time for his ultimate scene.



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