Underworld

ISBN: 0684848155
ISBN 13: 9780684848150
By: Don DeLillo

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About this book

A finalist for the National Book Award, Don DeLillo’s most powerful and riveting novel—“a great American novel, a masterpiece, a thrilling page-turner” (San Francisco Chronicle)—Underworld is about the second half of the twentieth century in America and about two people, an artist and an executive, whose lives intertwine in New York in the fifties and again in the nineties. With cameo appearances by Lenny Bruce, J. Edgar Hoover, Bobby Thompson, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason and Toots Shor, “this is DeLillo’s most affecting novel…a dazzling, phosphorescent work of art” (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times).

Reader's Thoughts

Ethan Fixell

i've only put down three books in my entire life. the first was Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," which i absolutely loved but got terribly sick of after about 700 pages of the same goddamn philosophy being crammed down my throat. (which sounds like its awful, but i really did adore those first two thirds).the second was a speed reading book. it wasn't a very quick read, and i got bored.the third is now Don DeLillo's Underworld, supposedly one of the greatest masterpieces of 20th century literature.i have no shame in saying that i stopped reading this bullshit after 550 pages. because as "brilliant" as DeLillo may be (and granted, he does have a more-than-firm grasp on the english language and on the power of dialogue), he is absolutely, hands down, one of the most long winded, convoluted writers i have ever read. i've done "White Noise," and got through it without too much discomfort, but was ultimately let down by the end. and i mean that in both senses of the phrase--the ending sucked, and i was considerably less interested by the time the book ended than when i started. nevertheless, i'd still recommend it for certain redeeming qualities.but this one... oh, god... this, this... painful verbal bukakefest is literally 800 pages of DeLillo jacking off at his computer over how deep and verbose he is. i wanted to punch him in the face and shake him, shouting, "JUST GET TO THE FUCKING PLOT, YOU SELF-LOVING PIECE OF SHIT."there's nothing wrong with elegant, poetic writing, even in novel form. but without a fucking interesting narrative? last time i checked, a novel is defined as:1. a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes.yeah, i get it: he's such a fucking genius because of the way he weaves esoteric and seemingly unrelated themes throughout the lives of dozens of characters within a bevvy of settings and a nonlinear timeframe.but WHO FUCKING CARES?if its boring and the characters suck, who really fucking CARES? i don't want to read that shit. i could crack open my 10th grade chemistry textbook for that.i came here to read a STORY, Don. it's a shame you couldn't help.

Matt

The central metaphor in Underworld, as I saw it, revolves around trash. One of the main characters, Nick Shay, works for a waste-disposal company. No matter how many different recycling bins his family divides their waste into (seven and counting), it cannot all be reclaimed. The trash builds up – and what holds true for the physical also holds true for the personal and the historical. No matter how we might try to reprocess, recast,or ignore our history/memory, our past accumulates, and the weight of our mental and personal garbage is heavy.An interesting twist that DeLillo works into Underworld, as I realized during a recent discussion with a friend, is that one of the characters, the painter Klara Sax, is able to find a sort of redemption. Yet the reader sees redemption at the beginning of the book, not the end – the book works backwards towards the trash and detritus of her past, leaving Klara, rather, at an seemingly insurmountable (although we, as readers, know better) low point.One of the greatest successes of the book is the fluidity with which it moves between personal and cultural memories. The opening prologue of the book, in fact, starts off with an incredible recreation of the historic 1951 Dodgers/Giants playoff game – the earliest point, temporarily, in the whole book. When we then jump forward to the present, we meet the characters for the first time – and the rest of the book is spent working backwards, following the personal histories as they weave in and out of the cultural history we met at the beginning. The way in which DeLillo allows these two memories to inform and define each other is an unbelievable triumph, on par with the personal/cultural archives of Joseph Cornell's boxes, from half a century earlier.

Nick

Underworld is nothing short of a masterpiece. I could traipse on about the existential fear of the Cold War captured and dissected and then molded into something astonishing. Or how the plot is like an intricate choreographed dance with different movements and variations on themes; or like a river bending and weaving, picking up plotpieces like detritus.There are hundreds of reviews much more erudite, much more lavish, the justice and deft the book deserves. What I will say is this: When I read this I made a bookmark so I could write down impactful lines, stirring passages, ideas and themes to consider and return to. My bookmark became two and three. And now the book is over I am compelled to stow away my bookmark in a closeted shoebox shrine filled with other waste pieces from my youth..a yellowed love letter, a lighter whose meaning faded with its color, a postcard with a smudged powdery lipstick stain...or perhaps in a glass case to put on the mantle, no doubt a strange bric-a-brack'ed curioso for visitors...this is a book I want to carry with me for a long long while.

joyce

Underworld, at 200-some pages in, I'm gonna have to get all Robert Plant and put you down for a little while. Not because I can't quit you, but because a) I'm not into baseball, b) the Cold War has no visceral appeal to me and c) neither does postmodernity. Seems to me a far bigger punch could have been delivered in far fewer pages, despite the fact that your prose and dialogue are lovely and I would give a limb to be able to write half that well. So I'm sorry, Underworld. We can still be friends.

Becca Becca

I felt like this was one of those books where you kind of start getting drunk on the words and then you begin to think everything is super deep and has about 100 meanings and everything is interconnected. Then you start reading every sentence about 5 times and get lost in a daydream about how everything is related to waste, nuclear energy, more waste, and nuns. When you finish the book you feel like you've gone on a journey but it's hard to talk about it and your not really sure exactly what happened.

Joseph

An excellent example of the critical consensus being just plain wrong. Underworld is bloated, confused, and turgid - yet critics who should have known better drowned it in praise. I think this is due to a number of factors. One, pedigree: DeLillo is a critical darling, deservedly so. Two, Heft: just like in movies, critics assume size equals importance, and thus the longer it takes to get through something, the more that something must have to say. It's 854 pages, 600 of which could have been cut. Three, it's Delillo, who rivals Toni Morrison and John Updike for riding the line between brilliant and laughably overwrought and critics will always prefer the "difficult" to the plainspoken. Fine by me - I don't have a problem with occasionally making the reader work for his/her supper. But there's a difference between challenging the reader and flexing your cleverness, and you can guess which one I think DeLillo does here. Ultimately, I don't think DeLillo knew what his story was about and tried to compenstate by adding more and more pages. Critics, never wanting to be the one who doesn't "get it", fawned and fellated the book, doing no favors to either the author or readers who mistakenly wade into this dank swamp and wonder why they're so dumb for not seeing the brilliance. And then they run back to James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks or some shit like that and we're all a little poorer in the end.

Saxon

Following a series of characters all loosely connected, DeLillo attempts to encompass and explore the entirety of modern(post?) America from the outer boroughs of NYC to the suburbs of Phoenix over a span of five decades. Beginning at a baseball game in 1951 at the events that took place there and elsewhere in the world that day, Underworld embarks on an exhaustive depiction of events and facets that characterize America (baseball, suburbs, Cuban Missle Crisis, etc) and its effect on the American psyche through intimate stories revolving around everyone from a waste contractor to Lenny Bruce. Overwhelming? Hardly. This is a collage of post-modern life that is filled with symbols and coincidences that we want to assign meaning, when in actuality, much like our own daily experiences, any meaning is shrouded, hidden and quite possibly doesn't even exist. Many of the characters of Underworld find themselves caught in this impasse, wanting to find a truth out in the physical world, but ultimately failing to ever do so. Sound familiar? Yeah, DeLillo might describing your life. (Ironically, and actually quite impressively, it seems after reading reviews of this book from people who did not like it, that they might have been struggling with the same dilemma while reading the book.) If it all seems a little too over-intellectual, it really isn't. DeLillo just seems to have an acute sense of what its like to live in America from the 1950's onward.Maybe this is going out on a limb, but I feel like this book can also be read as a collection of short stories revolving around similar themes. Its big, messy and sure, maybe could have been edited a bit, but in the end its a satisfying read that moves quite quickly. (If I hadn't moved across the country by car half way through this book, I probably would have gotten through it quicker myself.)Okay, no more books this year that are 600 + pages. This is my fourth (fifth?) since June (my Goodreads years start in June to coincide with when I started this list).

Manny

I'm surprised to see how many people here had the exact same reaction I did. They start reading, they find a few bits that seem quite gripping and well-written, they lose momentum, and they stop. Some hypotheses:- None of us are smart enough to get the point.- There is a clear point, but you have to reach the end to discover what it is, and we didn't have the requisite fortitude. (Also, it must be like The Mousetrap: readers who find out are sworn not to reveal it).- The point is that life feels this way if you're a certain kind of person, i.e. interesting in places but ultimately pretty meaningless.- The book just isn't very good.Now that I write it down, I do feel vaguely interested in discovering which of the above guesses is closest to the truth. But not interested enough to open it again.When I try to imagine Untitled, the spectacularly unsuccessful novel that Richard writes in Martin Amis's The Information, I must admit that the first thing I think of is Underworld. At least DeLillo's book doesn't cause nose-bleeds, sinus headaches or inexplicable drowsiness. Okay, maybe the last one.__________________________________________I note with interest that Karl Ove Knausgård is another member of the club. A passage from near the end of Min kamp 2 (he has just visited a bookstore and made some purchases):DeLillo-romanen angret jeg på i det samme jeg kom ut, for selv om jeg en gang hade hadde vært fan av ham, særlig romanene The Names og White Noise, hadde jeg ikke klart å lese mer en halve av Underworld, og siden neste bok hadde vært forferderlig, var det åpenbart at han var på hell.My translation:I regretted the DeLillo novel the moment I came out, since even if I once had been a fan, particularly of the novels The Names and White Noise, I hadn't been able to read more than half of Underworld, and considering that the next book had been terrible, it was clear he was on the way down.

Daryl

I read maybe half of Underworld nearly a decade ago and put it aside (I forget why). I've read the opening scene a few times since, and it's one of my favorite pieces of writing, so it's weird that I put the whole book aside. Maybe parts of it began to lag for me back then. I've meant ever since to pick the book back up, and I'm glad I did.My main complaint with DeLillo's other work has been that although his writing is very fine (really, really admirable), the construction of his stories tends to leave me puzzled. Cosmopolis feels at times hackish, Mao II sort of goes off the rails, and Falling Man is just bad. But here DeLillo writes a very big thing composed of a couple of big stories that intersect in ways I find believable and appealing.This is a book about finding lost things, getting back to origins, trying to grok complexity, grappling with betrayal, baseball, garbage, infidelity, war, and peace. It's lovely at the sentence level, and though at times it feels as if DeLillo might have left a story behind or made a misstep, I think he winds up getting it mostly right. It's worth a read and a reread.

Lauren

People married, were born, and died in the time it took me to read this book. A kid sitting next to me on a plane commented "that's the fattest book I've ever seen. What's it about?" I told him "I have no idea--I'm only 580 pages into it." Having finished I still don't know what it was about but reading it was an extraordinary experience. The novella that introduces the book is perfect and complete in itself. What follows is discursive and ephemeral like some new kind of music. Reading it was like learning how to listen.

Tim

For starters, "Underworld" has possibly the greatest prologue ever written; this 60-page section also might be the best writing about baseball in history, and the novel isn't even about baseball. DeLillo's lyrical account of Bobby Thomson's 1951 "Shot Heard Round the World" is so stunningly good I got chills on just about every page. Including witnesses J. Edgar Hoover, Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleason, along with players, announcer Russ Hodges and the person who comes up with the famous ball (and everybody else in attendance; and everybody else alive at the time), this prologue can't help but raise expectations to the stratosphere. So, is the rest of the novel that great? Of course not. But it's damn good. Good enough to make it one of the best novels of the last 25 years."Underworld," a dissection of Cold War life in the United States that hops back and forth in time a little and features several plot lines that sometimes flow into each other, sometimes don't, is DeLillo's masterpiece. I say that not having read all his works and in anticipation of what he yet will produce. It's that great. The sick and dangerous, the lovers, the heroes — DeLillo's approach includes some hopping around and some leisurely pacing, but screw the plot; his writing elevates everything. DeLillo previously had flashed a nice talent for writing large issues in small but compelling ways. Here he writes a massive tale (827 pages), a large story made small, made large (if that makes any sense; probably not). But, back to the beginning, the prologue. Because anyone touched by the romance and history of the game of baseball should read the prologue, if nothing else; here's a sample (after Thomson's homer won it for the New York Giants):"This is the thing that will pulse in his brain come old age and double vision and dizzy spells — the surge sensation, the leap of people already standing, that bolt of noise and joy when the ball went in ... And fans at the Polo Grounds today will be able to tell their grandchildren — they'll be the gassy old men leaning into the next century and trying to convince anyone willing to listen, pressing in with medicine breath, that they were here when it happened."

Krok Zero

How long a novel can you write with virtually no narrative throughline or character development? Don DeLillo says about 827 pages, that's how long.But don't take me for a naysayer: I'm a huge DeLillo fan, and if he wrote a book twice as long and twice as sprawling as this I'd devour it with pleasure. And yes, there is plenty to marvel at here. More than plenty. It's just that this kind of unfocused sprawl writing (the type often associated with Pynchon) doesn't, in my opinion, suit DeLillo 100% well. Bigger isn't always better, and if asked to rank DeLillo's novels I would place this one several notches below the perfect jaw-droppers Libra and White Noise (both of standard, non-bloated length, with focused narratives and clear characterization).The charge most commonly levelled against DeLillo is that he's really an essayist posing as a novelist. I hadn't seen basis for that claim in any of the six DeLillo novels I read prior to this one, but it's a valid complaint about Underworld, which by its very nature sacrifices character and plot at the altar of Big Arguments About 20th-Century America. The problem for me was that I was not entirely convinced by those arguments (whatever they were). I don't think DeLillo accomplished what he set out to do (create the ultimate American novel about the Cold War era), but I loved being along for the ride while he tried his damnedest to do it. Recommended to established DeLillo fans; neophytes should start with the two novels I listed above.

sologdin

Combines foucaultian archaeology/genealogy in order to trace the discontinuities of Bataille’s accursed share during the Cold War in the US. As with Pynchon’s V., likely should’ve read this one prior to reading Dissident Gardens--much overlap here with the latter: New York, chess, baseball. It’s almost as though Lethem read this one and thought nuh uh, then wrote a response.Main narrator (the sole first-person perspective) is “involved in waste”: “we were waste handlers, waste traders, cosmologists of waste” (88). Though “waste is an interesting word that you can trace through Old English and Old Norse back to Latin, finding such derivatives as empty, void, vanish, and devastate” (120), waste is nevertheless “a religious thing” (88). We see that the accursed share is expansive in the novel: “‘I deal in other kinds of waste. The real stuff of the world. Give me disposable diapers by the ton. Not this melancholy junk from yesteryear” (99), the latter referring to the baseball that is the subject of the famous prologue and the ‘black’ chapters. It is not wholly nihilistic, as the waste materials have a constructive function, insofar as narrator comes “upon a scene that is medieval-modern, a city of high-rise garbage, the hell reek of every perishable object ever thrown together” (104). The “towers of garbage” (362) found in one section are bleakly juxtaposed with the construction of the World Trade Center in 1974, observed by several others: "Very terrible thing but you have to look at it” (372). These are “pyramids of waste,” and “the more hazardous the waste, the deeper we go to sink it. The word plutonium comes from Pluto, god of the dead and ruler of the underworld” (106). In this latter connection, the description of a secret underground nuclear research facility captures the relevant concepts: “one of those nice tight societies that replaces the world. It was the world made personal and consistently interesting because it was what you did, and others like you, and it was self-enclosed and self-referring and you did it all together in a place and a language that were inaccessible to others” (412)--the placement of the secret, the private, the inaccessible into the underworld of wastes. (See also “mountains hollowed out in New Mexico” (457).) Narrator will later confirm our impression: “there is a curious connection between weapons and waste. I don’t know exactly what” (791). (The connection is made explicit in the analysis of Eisenstein’s Unterwelt (424 ff.), which concerns scientific experiments on human persons.)These passages form the nexus of proper waste with the objects of consumer culture. Author can’t resist a tendentious overworking the point: “He looked at the soaring garbage and knew for the first time what his job was about. Not engineering or transportation or source reduction. He dealt in human behavior, people’s habits and impulses, their uncontrollable needs and innocent wishes, maybe their passions, certainly their excesses and indulgences but their kindnesses too, their generosity, and the question was how to keep this mass metabolism from overwhelming us” (184). One character adopts another’s perspective of “seeing garbage everywhere, reading it into a situation” (343) (“Everything I see is garbage” (283)). Terrible, but we have to look, “an epidemic of seeing” (812).The “melancholy junk” aforesaid, a homerun ball of some significance to greasers, lumpenproles, and other dejecta, is accordingly the subject of a number of genealogies (most comically by tinfoil behatted Bircher Marvin) (176, 308, 317), wherein he attempts to trace the “lineage” of authenticity of the baseball, to attach a benjaminian aura to it. This authenticity is endlessly deferred, because the genealogist lost the trail to the last link, which is found in the prologue (i.e., derridean outworks!) and the ‘black’ chapters--much like the cargo ship denied entry for years, traveling port to port, rumored to be carrying human excrements, but also dead bodies, nuclear crap, and so on, but never confirmed or denied (330, 339), which is discussed on a number of occasions with a genealogical purpose. (This endlessly voyaging ship full of waste products reminds me of the vessel at the end of Love in the Time of Cholera, a ship sailing forever, carrying a worthless waste of space on his final trip.) Regardless, “all this cold war junk is gonna be worth plenty, as quaint memorabilia” (593). It is speculated that “we feel reverence for waste, for the redemptive qualities of the things we use and discard” (809)--pure Bataille, wherein sacrifices are parcel to the accursed share.At the same time that wastes are the subject of genealogies, so too they are the subject of archaeologies, such as by “garbage archaeologist” who argues that “garbage rose first, inciting people to build civilization in response, in self-defense“ (287)--“We let it shape us” (288). We see likewise that “waste is the secret history, the under history, the way archaeologists dig out the history of early cultures, every sort of bone heap and broken tool, literally from under the ground” (791). The political point could not be more plain: “This goddamn country has garbage you can eat, garbage that’s better to eat than the food on the table in other countries. They have garbage here you can furnish your house and feed your kids” (766-67). It’s not that the whole world is garbage-in-the-process-of-becoming, as the waste industry ‘professionals’ come to believe as part of this institutional praxis, but rather that things committed to ruin are as yet still functional: waste is accordingly an ideological rather than ontological condition. Still, it‘s also local: woman in New York is shown to be “a girl who forages in empty lots for discarded clothes” (810) (she’ll be raped, murdered, and dumped thereafter).In this connection, J. Edgar Hoover is troubled by a “garbage guerrilla,” who will take his trash and “get lefty sociologists to analyze the garbage item by item. Get hippies to rub it on their naked bodies. More or less have sex with it” (558). That’s this novel, aye?The dialectic of waste appears in other instances, such as the rumors spread by nuclear industry workers (406), which spreaders believe false, but spread anyway--a perfect example of Sloterdijk’s enlightened false consciousness, and a perfect example of the accursed share. (The rumors are the US version of the Eisenstein film, supra, and mirror the actual occurrences detailed in the epilogue.)A couple incidentals, outside the scope of the dialectic of wastes reading: cool comment that “prayer is a practical strategy, the gaining of temporal advantage in the capital markets of Sin and Remission” (237), which removes the practice of prayer from the ambit of wastes, perhaps. Also: something weird going on with graffiti, which shows up quite a bit (see e.g., 277, 343, 377, &c.)--not sure what to make of it now. Further: text describes “great sea creatures beached on a New York street" as an “epic of misplacement,” which is a slick self-referential description of the novel itself (479), much in keeping with Italian dietrologia, purportedly “the science of what is behind something” (280).Recommended for readers who have lived out the bureaucratic needs of male desire, persons displaced in their own lives, and those who mingle lubriciously with art and literature.

Mark

I found this a stunning book, a reminder of what good writing can be. I was reading this book in September 2001, when I put it down to go on vacation in Switzerland. While on vacation, 9-11 happened. When I returned, I picked the book up again and the cover - which prominently featured a creepy, black and white picture of the World Trade Center taken from the cemetery at Trinity Church - had a new meaning for me. It was such a wonderful, sweeping, poetic book that it's hard to encapsulate. Somehow the author managed to capture the hopes, fears, paranoias, disappointments and astonishing technological changes of the 20th century and capture that moment in time when it appeared the United States might be on the verge of decommissioning its nuclear arsenal - the images of brightly painted bombers being transformed into art in the dessert was vividly conveyed by the author, who also taught me far more about waste management, the construction of the World Trade Center, Nazi propaganda films, and J. Edgar Hoover (who also had a penchant for trash), and heroin addicts in NYC then I ever thought I would want to learn.The writing was masterful, purposeful, poetic. I am not a baseball fan, but his description of the subway world series was so riveting that it made me understand why someone would be; I read this aloud to my son and it was one of the most exciting sports passages I have ever encountered.I cannot say enough good about this book. Because I cannot cubby hole it neatly, because it was so sweeping and messy and odd, like life itself, I respect it more. But let the book speak for itself...Some excerpts:Nobody had a vocabulary for what happened that year. - 18There are things you apply unrepeatedly, muscle memory, and pumping blood and jets of dust, the narrative. The lives in the spaces of the official play-by-play. - 27The game doesn't change the way you sleep or wash your face or chew your food. It changes nothing but your life. -32There is a look in their faces, they are stunned by a happiness that has collapsed on them, bright-eyed under their caps. - 44Ross wants to believe a thing like this keeps us safe in some undetermined way. This is the thing that will pulse in his brain come old age and double vision and dizzy spells … -60I wanted her to know I got out of there, whatever crazy mistakes I’d made - I’d come out OK. -73I lived responsibly in the real … history was not a matter of missing minutes on the tape. I did not stand helpless before it. I hewed to the texture of collected knowledge, took safe from solid and availing stuff of our experience… at least we've known the thing together. A single narrative sweep, not 10 thousand wisps of disinformation. - 82Sometimes I see something so moving I know I'm not supposed to linger. See it and leave. If you stay too long, you wear out the wordless shock. Love it and trust it and leave. - 83"You can't name a mountain badly." -84Bemoan technology all you want. It expands your self-esteem and connects you in your well-pressed suit to the things that slip through your world unperceived.Sims [was a:] living rebuke to the tactics of modernization. -92 Janet didn't know how to look at the desert. She seemed to want it in some obscure personal way. It was too big, too empty, it had the audacity to be real. The landscape made him happy. It was a challenge to his lifelong citiness but more than that, a realization of some half-dreamed vision, the otherness of the West, the stirring great thing that was all mixed in with nation and spaciousness, with bravery and history and who you are and what you believe a what movies you saw growing up. - 45She wanted to feel the urge to work again. She needed to feel that thing begin to happen, … that newness, a flashing of life behind the eyes. -494"You have a history," she said. "That you are responsible to… You're answerable. You're required to try to make sense of it. You owe it your complete attention." -512I wanted to look up words… I wanted to look up vellety and quotidian and memorize the f...ckers for all time, spell them, learn them, pronounce them syllable by syllable - vocalize, phonate, utter the sounds, say the words for all they're worth. This is the only way in the world you can escape the things that made you. -543

christa

“Underworld” was published when I was in college, a part time bookseller who touched so many books in the course of a day, shelving new fiction, shelving classics, shelving How-To manuals and graphic novels and dictionaries. “Underworld” was something else, much buzzed about, a grey image of the World Trade Center buildings bisected with a church steeple. I directed many-a customer to its spot in the store and set it into hands. That’s one of the rules of bookselling: Make the customer hold the book. By the time it came out in Trade Paper, I was a frothy mess of curiosity. I had to read it. I dug in. The prologue is about 60 pages of the Giants v. the Dodgers, Branca v. Thompson. The shot heard around the world. A young kid skips school to jump a turnstile and watch the game. It is expertly drawn from different perspectives: This kid, Cotter, who loves baseball. The response of the crowd, littering the outfield with strips of paper, receipts, pieces of magazines, debris. J. Edgar Hoover as part of a foursome that includes Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra and Toots Shor. The buildup to the key moment in New York City baseball history and the way Cotter eventually oozes through the crowd for the game-winning baseball, giving a man a snake bite to relinquish his grip, Jackie Gleason barfing up hot dogs and drinks and the splatters landing in the cuffs of Sinatra’s pants. This scene is famous, well, as famous as a scene from a book can be. It has been republished in Best Sports Writing of the Century, among a handful of other places where I have stumbled upon it. It’s great. It is detailed. It is exciting and funny and super visual. But it is the reason I’ve spent the past decade and a half failing to read this book. Step One: Begin reading “Underworld,” including it’s massive prologue. Step Two: Continue reading into the introduction of garbage administrator Nick Shay, his suspicions about his wife’s infidelity, his handful of big-drinking work friends, a reconnection with the artist Klara Sax he banged when he was a teenager. Step Three: Feel the weight of this book, all 800 plus pages and these vignettes that are getting introductory treatment. Feel mind wander. Step Four: Set down “Underworld” just a few too many days in a row. Until the book opens automatically to the place where it has been left sprawled face down. Step Five: Retain curiosity about the book, read others by Don Delillo. Step Six: Resolve to read “Underworld,” but come to resent the prologue, THE PROLOGUE, so long, so baseball, read so many times you could one-act play it at an after bar probably. But know that you cannot read “Underworld” without revisiting that prologue. It’s part of the book and it’s necessary. Step Seven: Think about how much you want to read “Underworld,” but just don’t. At exactly 1 p.m. Central Time on January 14, 2012, I finished “Underworld.” It took two weeks. It took re-reading the prologue (again) but reading it in a new way. It was interesting again. Mind blowing in its attention to detail. Delillo painting mini figurines that require a magnifying glass to shade the laugh lines with his Lilliputian brush. It spans about four decades in America, starting with the famous baseball game, then jumping between periods. At its center is Nick Shay, who now believes he owns the game-winning ball, though who can know for sure. He keeps it as a memento of failure, since his team lost that day and forever erased his interest in baseball. Shay has a muddied past. He grew up in an Italian neighborhood in NYC and his life took a seedy lean where people steal and connive and cruise around in a stolen car. There are hints that despite his relatively normal life as a middle aged man, he once killed a man. He also once got hot and heavy with the wife of his brother’s chess coach. These bits of bio are dropped, little nuggets, and the stories are brought back into play in a measured way as the story progresses. There are whole chunks on Shay’s brother, a former chess whiz, who struggles socially. The artist Klara Sax, who spends a summer struggling to find a reason to paint, a mysterious young girl who forages through garbage cans and lives on the street, an expert graffiti artist who stains the subways with his wildstyle creations. J Edgar Hoover attends Truman Capote’s party, but first spends time with his assistant and chaste romantic interest, a nun, Cotter’s wheelin’ and dealin’ for a dime father. This book is insanely imagined. Who the heck is Don Delillo and can I get a copy of his brain scan? How did he do this? He weaves fact and fiction, binds it so tightly, that the seams aren’t even visible. Consider a section in which Klara Sax goes to see lost film footage by the Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. Delillo actually describes this footage in pretty great detail, staying true to the filmmaker and what kind of lost footage he might have collected at this period in his life. In the same book, Delillo successfully gets into the head of a graffiti artist, the best around, walking the walk, talking the talk and embracing the lingo and the fears and the moment of pride when a train he has painted emerges from a tunnel. I’ve said before that this or that book is about “everything” and now I fear that I’ve wasted that descriptor on things that weren’t about “everything” compared to the way “Underworld” is about everything. So, fresh slate. “Underworld” is now the official about everything book. And, nearly 15 years after I first tried to read it, I’m going to make my grand claim that this is the best book I’ve ever read.

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