Thursday, December 27, 2007

Underworld by Don DeLillo

"They had the rear of the bus to themselves on the ride back, the motor right below them, heat beating up, and they dozed on each other's shoulders, faces sun-tight and eyes stinging slightly, tired, hungry, happy, the bus belching heat below them."

"I long for the days of disorder. I want them back the days when I was alive on the earth, rippling in the quick of my skin, heedless and real. I was dumb-muscled and angry and real. That is what I long for, the breach of peace, the days of disarray when I walked real streets and did things slap-bang and felt angry and ready all the time, a danger to others and a distant mystery to myself."

If you require a strong, linear plot to propel you through a novel, then Don DeLillio's massive tome about Cold War America isn't for you. If you like endings that time up everything neatly, or where all the loose ends are tied together into a nice braid, this probably isn't the book you should pick up. If Hemmingway is your favorite author, well, the excerpts at the top of the review should tell you all you need to know.

If you've enjoyed DeLillo in the past and you like sprawling, epic novels, you owe it to yourself to check out Underworld. Ostensibly tied together by the movement from person to person of the home-run ball from "The Shot Heard Around the World." Within its path are the lives of dozens of characters, the main one of which, Nick Shay, has a secret that forms what tension exists in the book. The book isn't intended, however as a thriller. It's a slow moving slice-of-life about paranoia, death, religion, growing old, America, the Cold War, and the latter half of this century. I personally found it hard to put down, and I have to say that the prose is some of the most beautiful I've ever read. There's a passage near the end of the book that describes a landfill in such a tragic, nostalgic way that it almost gives me chills. That takes some skill.

The book is 827 pages long, but despite that, felt a lot shorter than Cosmopolis, one of the other two DeLillo novels I read this year. Underworld also eschews DeLillo's usual trademark of keeping a safe emotional distance from his characters, choosing instead to relate their inner turmoil through incomplete sentences, awkward pauses, strange guestures, and every other tool at his disposal. This book was recently chosen as runner-up for the best work of American fiction in the last 25 years. I would say it deserves those accolades. It was a challenging book, and it ends my 50 with a bang.


Carlton said...

"...religion, growing old, America, the Cold War, and the latter half of"...this past century. I bet you feel stupid now.

Carlton said...

Congrats on 50.
I'm about 20 pages away.