Review of “White Noise” by Don Delillo

I heard about this book on NPR. They were saying a movie was made of it, that it is about a toxic spill from a railroad. That’s been in the news lately so I read it. I watched the movie too on Netflix, but I’ll get to that.

The book won several literary awards, which usually means it is literary fiction, rather than action or drama. And it is. The narrator is first-person and all of their crazy thoughts about just about everything are portrayed and explored in numbing detail. That’s what made it interesting. Did you ever wonder if anyone else occasionally sees curious metaphors or analogues in everyday objects and events? Apparent the author does.

From his (the narrator) marriage to the evacuation because of the toxic cloud, and everything in between, nothing is spared close scrutiny, and not necessarily rational or even reasonable. For example, the return of students in the fall to the “College on the Hill” requires several pages to describe, and it is referred to later in the book.

As far as plot goes, there isn’t really one, although I got the impression that the author realized this and shoved an ending in, which was as incomplete as every other thought by the narrator. It would have been better without what was a very unsatisfactory finale. That isn’t important, however; what kept my attention was the narrative, exploration of Jack Gladney’s mind through his attempts to understand the world. He fails and I think this is where the title comes from.

Everything is white noise, in our minds, the outside world, movement through this world. Everything. And that’s probably why the book won awards, and why I recommend it as a fascinating examination of “what if’s” even if there are no satisfactory answers.

As for the movie, I don’t know why anyone would have tried to make a movie from this book. I watched the film and it bore little relation to what I read, except that I saw the movie first; the actor who plays Jack Gladney was perfect, in appearance, speech, mannerisms. Just excellent. Everything else about the film was a major disappointment.

Read it but don’t watch it!

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