Our stop today is at another vague location, and I apologize. In his novel White Noise, Don DeLillo leaves his reader somewhere in the midwestern United States, in a town called Blacksmith. He allows readers to fill in the details for themselves.
Jack, the protagonist, is a professor and the founder of Hitler studies at The-College-on-the-Hill. He is on his fourth marriage and third wife, Babette, with whom he raises their multiple children from both of the numerous marriages. Jack and his wife struggle with an almost debilitating fear of death, which comes to light after “the Airborne Toxic Event” strikes their unsuspecting town. The novel shows their struggles with this fear, as well as provides an interesting commentary on modern life.
White Noise is DeLillo’s eighth novel, a postmodernist work, and places a heavy emphasis on how media and consumerism dominates modern society. Almost ever page mentions a voice in another room, referring to television or radio, both of which seem to be in constant use in the family home. And aren’t they in our homes as well? My computer is hardly ever turned off, and it provides (or did, before I installed AdBlock) with a constant barrage of bait for consumers. The television in my parents’ kitchen is always providing them with CNN updates on the financial, militaristic, and general well-being of our nation, as well as the world. I think that DeLillo’s depiction of how media affects us is quite accurate.
In addition to his treatment of media coverage, DeLillo dwells on the idea of death. Jack and his family have a morbid fascination with natural disasters. They watch the horrific events unfold on television, thankful that they are not the victims. How they deal with such a disaster becomes all the more interesting as the reader watches them struggle through their panic at the idea of “the Airborne Toxic Event.” Jack and Babette deny that it will do any harm, and the children begin to “show” symptoms after the radio alerts them to what these symptoms might be. Such is the power of suggestion, especially when the suggestions comes from an influential media voice.
Jack and Babette’s personal struggles with death are something that I feel I should leave untouched. DeLillo describes them in a particular way which I can’t duplicate easily. Besides, there would be spoilers!
I would hesitantly recommend this White Noise. It is well written, but its postmodern themes and consumerism criticisms can make it difficult to get through at points. This is not the sort of novel with a clear conflict and resolution. If you’re interested in a deep, humorous, modern, social commentary, this is a book for you.