First Published: 1.21.1985
Audio: 12.8 hrs.
Twelve years after White Noise was published, author Don DeLillo would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Underworld. As a reader whom enjoys symbolism, I thought White Noise was pretty accessible. There is also quite a bit of satire, so the humor of this novel grants some relief against the ominous nature of the themes involved.
I read excerpts from this book aloud to three different people. I even made a few marks in my paperback. As a well-established OCD introvert, this is probably more telling than any other comment I could make. My favorite parts include the dialogue starting on page 133 and just about every altercation with SIMUVAC.
Page 133. What the radio was calling the black billowing cloud has been upgraded to an airborne toxic event. The general public has been warned that exposure to the chemical spill may include instances of heart palpitations and deja vu. They were concerned only a moment ago about nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath, but no longer. The dialogue that occurs on page 133 suggests “Let’s keep the radio turned off” so the children can’t hear. Why? Because they ought not have symptoms if they don’t know what they’re supposed to be. Cheekily, the character giving the suggestion soon claims that they’ve had this conversation before.
SIMUVAC, or the Simulated Evacuation teams are akin to FEMA, if the Federal Emergency Management Agency only deigned to show up when there was no actual emergency. With exception of the airborne toxic event, SIMUVAC makes appearances when everything is fine, and then vanishes before anything serious occurs. They are only there to simulate evacuation, not to actually support one. And, in the absence of suited scientists to demonstrate there is danger afoot, the populace decides that they must be safe.
My impression of White Noise was to consider all of the extraneous distractions that our lives are bedraggled with. A major theme is the fear of death, and this novel points out that humans like to avoid thinking about how brief life can be. It suggests that we will reach for any drug to avoid considering our own mortality, even though those drugs make us no less mortal. It is important for us to remind ourselves that when we place our focus on things without substance, we can create lives without any real meaning.
I would recommend this book to someone who wants to get a feel for DeLillo without committing to the 827 pages of Underworld, even though I would also attest that Underworld is the better novel when it comes to social commentary and scope. I thought that the main character in White Noise was compelling enough to earn my sympathy, and even though his character arc is somewhat shallow, he does have something of an epiphany near the end which resolved in a way I did not expect.
If you have not read White Noise yet, and plan to, I would suggest keeping track of the weather as events occur. The severity of the forecast is analogous to what the characters are experiencing.
If you have read White Noise and know what I’m talking about, then I’d suggest taking some time away from your favorite phone game to enjoy the beauty of a good sunset. Accepting that death is a part of living makes the journey all the more beautiful. Nobody should have to live in perpetual fear, and simply trying to ignore the fear is not a sustainable answer.