by Don DeLillo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
White Noise / 0-14-007702-2
"White Noise", arguably Delillo's best work, carefully explores a world where consumerism has almost literally consumed us all, to the point where we become empty shells of people.
The extended family in the book have been reduced by consumerism to two-dimensional beings, dependent upon television and other cultural stimuli to tell them how to think and behave. Occasionally, they act out against this emptiness (or has a wire has been crossed in their brains?) with idiosyncrasies such as a pronounced preference for the smell of burnt toast, or a tendency to find frumpy jogging outfits erotically attractive. On the weekends, they shop at the local supermarket, under the soporific thrall of the overhead neon lights and the music specially selected to stimulate their shopping impulses.
When their consumer culture literally threatens to kill them, via a toxic waste spill on the town railroad, they are ill-prepared to respond. The family looks to their customary authorities - television and radio - on how to react to the emergency; unable to distinguish between real and imagined authorities, when fire trucks storm through town broadcasting an evacuation notice, the family wonders absently whether the evacuation is just a suggestion. Even in the aftermath of the toxic cloud, the town feels no outrage but only numbness that what is normally confined to the television news stories has somehow happened in their idyllic town. They become actors themselves, practicing emergency evacuations, determined to perform better "next time".
"White Noise" revolves strongly around death and the fear of it, despite the shallowness of their lives. Some self-medicate with dangerous experimental drugs in an attempt to control that fear; others take up death-defying hobbies in the hope that this will deaden their fear. They discuss which food preservatives will kill them, whether the phones lines will cause cancer, which yoga poses will prolong their lives, and how to squeeze every drop of life out of their lives. Characters obsess over saving every ounce of energy from unnecessary tasks in order to "live longer". In this way, Delillo paints a stunning and frightening portrait of a community that fears death yet has no love for life.
~ Ana Mardoll
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