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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

Stafford Davis

James Woodvs.Don DeLilloNow here’s a real problem; a British literary critic whom I greatly admire, one James Wood, publishes an essay on why he doesn’t like a novel called, Underworld, by one of my favorite authors, the American novelist Don DeLillo. And that pesky rub is somewhere between the two, because I really like DeLillo’s book, while Wood’s 12 page critique of it, is an accurate and dead-on review that would make any fan of literature nod their head in one way or another. The facts: Underworld was first published in 1997 and James Wood’s essay entitled, Against Paranoia: The Case of Don DeLillo, was published in The New Republic shortly thereafter. Both the novel and essay are brilliantly crafted pieces that give the reader unexpected insights into the world around us. And no, I’m not kidding or being gratuitous when I say that.Corner #1James WoodBorn 1965; Durham, UKWood has published three books of criticism and one novel. He is a writer for the New Yorker and has written for The Guardian and The New Republic. He teaches at Harvard and Columbia Universities.Corner #2Don DeLilloBorn 1936; New York City, USADeLillo has written 15 novels and three plays. He’s won a National Book Award and a PEN/Faulkner Award. Underworld was voted the second most important work of fiction in the last 25 years by The New York Times.Round 1Wood ~To call Underworld, Don DeLillo’s large novel, a failure, might seem an act of slightly flirtatious irrelevance. The book is so large, so serious, so ambitious, so often well written, so punctually intelligent, that it produces its own antibodies and makes criticism a small germ. Moreover, Don DeLillo’s huge endeavor represents a promise to restock the novel’s wasting pedigree in our age, and few want to see the promise broken. It is easy, and rightly so, for big books to flush away criticism. But DeLillo’s novel, despite chapters of great brilliance, does not gather its local victories as a book this large should. Instead, it enforces relations between its parts which it cannot coax. Curiously, it is at once distractingly centrifugal and dogmatically centripetal: its many characters dissolve an intensity which the novel insists on repeating.Some background:Underworld is the story of the kind of history that influences our lives in monumental ways. That being our personal history; things like, birth place, parents, siblings, school, environment, friends, romantic counterparts, and of course all this sets against the history we all know; JFK, Vietnam, Civil Rights, the Cold War. The book starts in 1951 with the “Shot Heard Around the World” in baseball when Bobby Thomson hit a homerun for a New York Giants victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Simultaneously the USSR makes its “shot” when it detonates its first atomic bomb in Kazakhstan. Underworld takes us on a journey from then to the late 1990’s in which we follow Thomson’s baseball that in reality was never found, but here its ownership changes over the next 50 years frequently. Every person to come in contact with the ball is a character along with others including, a Jesuit nun, a New York graffiti artist, a Kazakh medical ward, a conceptual artist, a waiter, and fictionalized versions of real characters; J. Edgar Hoover, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, and most significantly, Lenny Bruce. The book follows a non-linear narrative that goes back and forth in time through the years of the Cold War.Round 2DeLillo talking about his book in an interview ~The last half century has been an enormously complex period – a strange spin-out experience, filled with danger and change. The novel is a very open form. It will accommodate large themes and whole landscapes of experience. The novel is here, the novel exists to give us a form that is fully equal to the sweeping realities of a given period. The novel expands, contracts, becomes essay-like, floats in pure consciousness – it gives the writer what he needs to produce a book that duplicates, a book that models the rich, dense, and complex weave of actual experience. The novel goads the writer into surpassing himself… And it occurs to me that this is what the writer does to transcend the limitations of his background. He does it though language, obviously. He writes himself into the larger world. He opens himself to the entire culture.Round 3Wood ~Don DeLillo is a serious artist whose pointed stewardship of the novel in our culture and pleasure in the chafe of fictional language are cherishable. But his very defensiveness of the novel leads him, as far as one can see, into a philosophy of history which may weaken the novel, and into a battle with the culture which the novel can only lose. Again, the problem is that DeLillo veers toward a complicity with the very culture he wants to defend the novel against. Yet DeLillo’s struggle with the anaconda of postmodern America, if not his personal theory of that struggle, is representative of much American writing since 1960, when Philip Roth famously argued that American reality was more vivid, and hence more fictional, than American fiction. DeLillo is not isolate; where Underworld fails, it fails collegiately.Round 4Underworldpage; 446In cities you build a language of circumspection and tact, a thousand little intimations, the nuance that has a shimmer of rubbed bronze. Then you go to the wilderness and become undone, lapsing into babble, eating mushroom caps that implode your brain, that make you preternaturally aware and afraid, turn you into an Aztec bird.Matt Shay sat in the terminal of the airport in Tucson and listened to announcements bouncing off the walls.He was thinking about his paranoid episode at the bombhead party the night before. He felt he’d glimpsed some horrific system of connections in which you can’t tell the difference between a soup can and a car bomb, because they are made by the same people in the way and ultimately refer to the same thing.There was a garbage strike in New York.There was a man being paged known only as Jack.A woman with an accent said to someone seated next to her, “I so-call fell in love with him the day he paint my walls.”There was a man in a wheelchair eating a burrito.Round 5Wood ~What is striking is how many paranoid people there are in Underworld, and how this multitude drives so many perforations of unreality into the book’s form that its truths come to seem ragged and uncertain, while its untruths have an airy consistency… Such an agglomeration of paranoid people makes the reader weary about discrimination, and thus deprives this novel of one of fiction’s great goads. Paranoia must necessarily do this to fiction, for it silences judgment. One might call this the logic of pampered ignorance. If what you start out from is what you do not know, this is an infinitely extendable mystical spectrum. One can always not know more. Paranoia approaches knowledge from behind, so that anything can be connected with anything. It is dogmatic occultism. Yet fiction’s task is to show where connections seem to end, the better for their vivid spread.Round 6Underworldpage; 301You withhold the deepest things from those who are closest and then talk to a stranger in a numbered room.page; 778It was dark and quiet now and he went up the narrow street toward his building but then swung into a gateway on an impulse and went down the steps and into the yards.There was no light in the outer passage and he felt along the walls for the door that led inside. He smelled wet stone where the super had hosed the floors. He went inside and walked past the furnace room to the door at the end of the passage.He still felt uneasy about the basement room, about the needle and strap and spoon, but it was passing little by little into faded time, half lost in the weave of a thousand things.Page; 803Most of our longings go unfulfilled. This is the word’s wistful implication – a desire for something lost or fled or otherwise out of reach.In Phoenix now, with the years blowing by, I take a drive sometimes out past the regimented typeface on the map…Closing ArgumentsDon DeLillo is an amazingly talented writer and I have no problem calling him a genius. However in my view, Underworld is not his best work, yet it stands near the top of a skinny mountain that is the best of contemporary fiction. Of DeLillo’s work that stand above Underworld are; The Names, White Noise, The Body Artist, and Mao II.Literary Criticism is something that I’ve really enjoyed reading the past few years. It can give insight and understanding of literature that’s not always immediately apparent, and in turn, criticism can add to the evocative nature of the works it analyzes. James Wood is a fairly recent find for me. Out of the very few critics that I like, he is the best because he seems to possess an almost ESP-like ability to break things down and render them comprehensible to the layman while adding his own touch of resonance.Round 7Wood ~Naturally enough, DeLillo has his own American anxiety; you cannot have the calm growl of a Tolstoy in late-twentieth-century America, nor should you. But the paranoid vision incorporates a certain restless despair that makes the creation of rounded individual characters impossible. Paranoia acts as a falsely religious stimulant, to both novelists and their characters. Thus it is that DeLillo fights history with the religion of the novel, and speaks of the novel as “fanaticism, with elements of obsession, superstition and awe” – an extraordinary inversion of the sober nineteenth-century legacy, and a superstitious cul-de-sac for the novel. Living in America, inheriting a dread that American reality is too powerful for American fiction, he responds by crawling very close to an outright denial of reality’s groundedness, while exaggerating the strength of fiction’s potential resistance to that reality. If Tolstoy fought superstition with the daylight of realism, DeLillo merely fights superstition with a new superstition. He fights the religion of history with religion of fiction.Round 8UnderworldPage; 827And you can glance out the window for a moment, distracted by the sound of small kids playing a made-up game in a neighbor’s yard, some kind of kickball maybe, and they speak in your voice, or piggy-back races on the weedy lawn, and it’s your voice you hear, essentially, under the glimmerglass sky, and you look at the things in the room, offscreen, unwebbed, the tissued grain of the deskwood alive in the light, the thick lived tenor of things, the argument of things to be seen and eaten, the apple core going sepia in the lunch tray, and the dense measures of experience in a random glance, the monk’s candle reflected in the slope of the phone, hours marked in Roman numerals, and the glaze of the wax, and the curl of the braided wick, and the chipped rim of the mug that holds your yellow pencils, skewed all crazy, and the plied lives of the simplest surface, the slabbed butter melting on the crumbled bun, and the yellow of the yellow of the pencils, and you try to imagine the word on the screen becoming a thing in the world, taking all its meanings, its sense of serenities and contentments out into the streets somehow, its whisper of reconciliation, a word extending itself ever outward, the tone of agreement or treaty, the tone of repose, the sense of mollifying silence, the tone of hail and farewell, a word that carries the sunlit ardor of an object deep in drenching noon, the argument of binding touch, but it’s only a sequence of pulses on a dullish screen and all it can do is make you pensive – a word that spreads a longing through the raw sprawl of the city and out across the dreaming bourns and orchards to the solitary hills.

Justin Evans

Voltaire is best known today for a novella and being a bit of a prick (in an enlightening way), but he also wrote a number of epic poems, including the first (?) epic poem in French, the Henriade. This was reprinted dozens of times during his life. The epic was the great literary genre of the eighteenth century, in theory. Now, of course, nobody gives a shit, because that stuff is utterly unreadable. Our 'epics' are long novels, and, like the Henriade, they get laurels aplenty, despite being all too often unreadable. Authors continue to churn them out, because critics adore a behemoth. Sometimes, it's best to just admit defeat. There are a few things worth critically adoring in Underworld: i) The fact that DeLillo was ballsy enough to tell the story backwards. ii) Any scene with the nuns and priests in it. iii) A few patented DeLillo symbol-objects, here, the painted planes in the desert and the giant ship carrying garbage/heroin/nuclear waste/who knows what. These are undermined, though, by, e.g., ia) The fact that he doesn't have any story to tell, so telling it backwards adds nothing. iia) There are too few scenes with the nuns, and too many with the very boring Nick Shay. How many men who've blown off another man's head with a shotgun (accidentally, but still), and had an affair with a super-hot modern artist who attracts disciples like black clothes attract dog hair, could be *this* boring? Only one, Nick Shay, and Delillo writes about him for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages. iiia) Those symbol-objects can carry books the length of, say, White Noise. This book is 827 pages long. Not even the painted planes in the desert can carry a book for that long. So we're breaking even (I'm being generous). How about the ideas? By far the most intelligent, and humorous, scene in the book comes in chapter 3 of part 4. We get to watch people watch an apocryphal Eisenstein film, called 'Underworld.' Some characters' reactions: a) "The plot was hard to follow. There was no plot. Just loneliness."b) Esther said, "I want to be rewarded for this ordeal."c) "Admit it, you're bored." d) "It was remote and fragmentary and made on the cheap, supposedly personal, and it had a kind of suspense even as it crawled along. How and when would it reveal itself?"e) "What about the politics? She thought this film might be a protest against socialist realism... what was this murky film, this strange dark draggy set of images if not a statement of outrage and independence?" f) "Do we have to stay for the rest of it?" "I want to see what happens." "What could happen?" g) "The camp elements of the program... now tended to resemble sneak attacks on the dominant culture." h) "All Eisenstein wants you to see, in the end, are the contradictions of being." This is transparently about the novel, *Underworld*. There is no plot, it is an ordeal, it is boring, it is remote and fragmentary, you do kind of want to know if/when it will reveal itself or something will happen, it could easily be nothing more than a statement about the supposed 'contradictions of being'. And you can, if you like, read all of that as a giant protest against realism. So, given that our author is aware of the book's flaws (you can protest against realism and be entertaining, by the way),how can we justify its existence? In its intellectual content? That content is ambiguous, in a good way: DeLillo asks us to consider the relationship between nostalgia (for, e.g., baseball) and history (i.e., things that will matter to mentally sound people who didn't live through them). It would be nice to think that this book treats reverence for baseball and various other, even more cheesy, mass cultural ways of extracting money from people ironically: of course it's fun to go watch baseball, but it's not particularly important. I fear, however, there is no irony, and that Underworld is just a depressing, postmodern affirmation of 'everyday life,' that looks back with longing (somewhat paradoxically, given the aforementioned pomoness) to the Cold War, back when the Giants and Dodgers were still New York teams. I fear that Underworld's main point is to show how Capital-H History disposes of all the glorious little knick-knacks we nostalgize about, like, say, baseballs, and how we have to hang onto them and make sure we get to stay individuals and live authentically even though The Man doesn't want us to. Consider that the most memorable scene in the book, according to the internet I read, is when the priest tells Nick 'Boring' Shay that he's tired of educating teenagers in "abstract ideas" and would be better off educating them as to the names of particular concrete things like, e.g., the names of shoe-parts, which he then proceeds to name for a few pages. How poetic it is that he knows what to call the cuff, counter and vamp. What a lesson in "the depth and reach of the commonplace". If a book is going to argue for the depth and reach and importance of the quotidian, and eschew any attempt to connect its various chunks, those chunks had better be glorious. That is not the case here. I just don't care about the moments that DeLillo chooses not to connect to each other. Now, of course, that wouldn't matter too much if the writing was good, but, as other reviewers have cataloged, it is not. Who let the following phrase slop into existence? Because it couldn't have been Don DeLillo: "Matt drove west, deeper into the white parts of the map, where he would try to find a clue to his future." I'd love to say I've made it look worse, but the preceding clause involves the phrase 'soft dawn.' Underworld is not funny, as some DeLillo books are. It is not as well written as many of them are. It is not intellectually interesting as a couple of them are. It neither asks, nor answers, important questions, as DeLillo is capable of doing. It is, however, long; it is ambitious; and it was published before everything in the U.S.A. went to poop thanks to financial speculation, war and incompetence. So people call it a Great American Novel, and pine for the time before Osama, Bush and the Great Recession, just like they pine for the good ol' days in the ballpark. It is the Henriade of a very talented man, not his Candide.

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

Paul

THE PILGRIM 'S HEART IS LIGHT AT THE COMMENCEMENT OF HIS JOURNEYSo I will strap on my backpack and don sturdy walking boots, an oxygen tank might be useful, and a supply of plasters and animal pelts - and then I will begin to scale the North Face of Modern American Literature. Let's see how far I get before I fall off one of its jagged cliffs or collapse choking with one of Mr DeLillo's sentences wrapped around my neck.BUT DISCOURAGEMENTS ARISE UNBIDDENUpdate - Not even on page 100 and I have a sinking feeling. It's DeLillo's style. It's so very...er...ornate. No noun escapes without an adjective pinned to it, some of which are very odd - consider these from pages 63 to 65:"... the little splat of human speech" [huh?:]"A bled-white sky with ticky breezes" [ticky? like a clock?:]"...a horseman with scabbarded rifle or a lone cameleer hunched in muslin on his dumb-headed beast""...the studded vegetation" [with what?:]"...a clear night with swirled stars" [swirled?:]Also this -"There is something about old times that's satisfied by spontaneity. The quicker you decide, the more fully you discharge the debt to memory." Okay, what debt would that be? What's the logic here? Is this something our Don believes or is this something he wants us to believe this particular character believes? If so, why? Who has the time to figure out what it means anyway? Especially when there's another 762 ticky swirled studded scabbarded pages to go....This isn't going so well.DESPAIR INGULFS HIS HEART AND HE HEARS VOICESAnd finally :Once more despondent and unenthused, I zipped around the goodread reviews and found remarks such as"... 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." (from Ethan)and"I'll be honest and say that I don't remember much about this book other than an awful lot of baseball. This is partially because there is a lot of baseball in it" (from Chelsea)and"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. ." (from Joseph)and finally this from an online lit journal:"Potentially intriguing plots which feature strongly in the earlier parts of the book - an intriguing serial killer subplot, the stories of each person who possesses the winning baseball - are abandoned halfway through the book in favour of overlong childhood memories or the inane ponderings of a performance artist; other stories are neglected for over 400 pages before reappearing at the end of the novel, causing an unwelcome jolt as the reader tries to remember the pertinent details."THE PILGRIM CASTS THE DEVIL FROM HIMI groaned and decided to place this great tome gently onto my "Abandoned Halfway And Will Never Finish Unless Some Very Unlikely DeLillo Fans Take My Family Hostage" shelf.

Vale

Lost places e UnderworldLa scorsa estate ad Amburgo per caso mi sono imbattuta in una interessante mostra fotografica dal titolo "Lost places". Le fotografie ritraevano luoghi antropizzati in cui l'uomo scompariva, del tutto reificato: vecchi capannoni industriali, piscine fatiscenti, strade periferiche dismesse.Mentre leggevo Underworld non potevo fare a meno di pensare a quelle immagini, ad un mondo umano parallelo che l'uomo vive superficialmente e che quindi sembra abbandonato.Il libro è un capolavoro. Ho amato questo libro perché DeLillo ha una prosa lucida e al contempo poetica.La costruzione del romanzo è perfetta, dalla struttura dei capitoli ai personaggi. Un affresco della modernità in cui il genius loci rappresenta le sue stigmate.La storia prende avvio da una partita di baseball negli anni '50 e la palla della vittoria diventa il "testimone" che lega tutti i personaggi, in un modo o nell'altro. La storia in realtà è un polittico di umanità, di uomini e donne alla ricerca di senso, di una identità. Le vite di questi personaggi affondano in realtà urbane periferiche, in deserti e in luoghi in cui la spazzatura è onnipresente eppure si fermano ad osservare quel "qualcosa" che dia senso al loro vivere: la luce nuda su una parete, un tramonto nel deserto post-atomico, il gioco della campana di alcuni bambini. E come si fa a capire se questo è vero, dal momento che siamo già influenzati dal sistema, preparati a semicredere a tutto?Ci si chiede cosa sia reale perché si comprende che il sistema influenza tutto, vende altre realtà mistificando quella in cui si vive e ponendo l'uomo nel suo mondo artificiale lo manipola, lo depaupera di qualsiasi senso, lo riduce a "spazzatura", a qualcosa che ha una scadenza. L'arte e il linguaggio sembrano le uniche vie di fuga, la possibilità di trasformarsi da spazzatura in Watts Towers.Le tematiche presenti in Underworld e nella mostra "Lost places" mi incuriosiscono da tempo.Da anni prendo giornalmente il treno per raggiungere il posto di lavoro e quando costeggio i capannoni industriali dei vari paesi che la linea ferroviaria attraversa cerco con lo sguardo l'angolo più dimenticato e lontano, quello in cui lasciare quel "qualcosa" che non si vuol buttare, ma che non serve più. Mi interessa quel "qualcosa" che per pigrizia o noncuranza sopravvive ai giorni uggiosi e a quelli caldi, come questi, e si crepa lentamente, cambia colore, ma giace e segna il passo nella grammatica del tempo.

Zachary Powell

I want to start on a note that has troubled me for some time. It concerns goodreads, partially. More accurately, it concerns some of the patrons of goodreads. It started when I read Denis Johnson's _Tree of Smoke_. I made a mistake of reading other people's reviews. Something that has stuck with me for quite awhile, denoting a bad experience. Many of these reviews, especially the lengthy ones, were fist-shaking diatribes with cane-rapping words that tore the book apart. When I looked at reviews of _Underworld_, a book I started back in '08 but didn't finish, they were much the same. One reviewer asked, what the point of the book was since, they hinted, one could not find a obvious straight-forward plot. Another asked, why they wasted their time on such a book. Another, lifting their entire walker frame and crashing it about side-to-side, screeched that it was incredible that this book was given good review by anyone, ever.Well, I think this book is the bee-knees, to continue the geriatric diction. The structure of the book is fantastic, and its scope is huge. Yes, there is not one plot, but many, and DeLillo utilizes a Tarantino-esque structure, starting in the present and working backward. A chronology which is fitting for a book published at the end of the nineties. What is this book about? It is about the second half of the twentieth century, you fart. Why read this book? Because it is funny, perceptive, and conjures up a lot of questions about the nature of our country as a world power and its cold war stakes, you mystery-plot loving grump. Why is it given good reviews? Because many readers enjoy a writer that can instill the novel with a brain, like Huxley, you...well, you get the point.

Jack Waters

Intimidation factors:Its chronology bounces aroundThe narrative is driven mainly by dialogue.You think it that vampire movie - it is absolutely NOT that movieUnderworld is such an evocative title for a novel, especially when coupled with its cover's depiction of the Twin Towers covered with clouds and a flying bird angled in an eerily airplane looking way(this book came out in 1997). Not to mention several passages regarding the Twin Towers that read with new resonance after 9/11. But that isn't really what the novel is about; it's an opportune accidental feeling carried throughout the book. I digress.DeLillo begins Underworld with pages describing Bobby Thompson's walk-off homerun (afterward called The Shot Heard 'Round the World). DeLillo places the reader at this game in the crowd at the legendary Polo Grounds in New York; you needn't enjoy baseball to like this setting. Thompson's homerun, which clinched the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants, erupts an emotional fanbase into pandemonium. A young fan, Cotter Martin, sneaks in to watch the game, eventually snagging the incredibly historic homerun away from another fan he'd just befriended. DeLillo (and history) describes this game as the same day the Russians tested a nuclear bomb. The Cold War has commenced, and the baseball takes the reader through time (the years between 1951 and 1997), as it passes through the hands of various owners. The narrative explains the American experience of Russia vs. America while mingling fictional characters with various heroes of cultural history (Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, Lenny Bruce among others). Underworld covers the conflict in close detail and from a street level perspective. It's definitely a novel for anyone fascinated in global politics, media and culture.Klara and Nick, the main characters, meet up in an Arizona desert in the 1990s and meander back in time as the story jumps chronologically through them and others until the early 1950s. Big events play out on the national stage, and each character's motivations and circumstances are shown, hinting that each life story shares synchronicity; the snapshots of the characters slowly intertwine into each others' lives.The baseball is viewed by many of the characters as an object with a history; by simply owning the ball they feel they'll also get the history that comes along with it. A preacher in the book discusses how history's found in the most common of places -- only that it's hidden where few think to look. By learning the history of objects the characters become more in focus with themselves and society. Some characters deal in various types of waste: human waste, nuclear waste, garbage, etc. Every product, package, wrapper or explosion has a consequence. This is the core of Underworld -- it is the waste that humankind feverishly tries to hide away like a secret. But it's always there, and eventually we're forced to confront the waste we create and the fears that we hide behind, holding us back from true desires.Sure, the chronology is a bit jumbled, but it all ties together in the end. The rewards of persevering through this dizzying novel are endless. The dialogue driven narrative means that good listeners will enjoy this book. Reading DeLillo (any novel, especially White Noise) before Underworld will help an intimidated reader, but is not a necessity. In brevity, Underworld finds roots of today in the small moments of the past.Postscript: DeLillo has said that the inspiration for Underworld was the October 4, 1951 front page of The New York Times (look it up). Essential reading: the Lenny Bruce comedy routines about the Cuban Missile Crisis in the novel. If, AND ONLY IF you can't make it through the entire book, read the first section about the baseball game, and then the Lenny Bruce routines which are found on pages 504-9, 544-8, 580-6, 590-5, and 623-33. They are remarkable in context of the novel, but are able to be read independently of the story with great results. Upon finishing the novel, these were the areas that I shuffled back to immediately.

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.

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.

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