Yesterday, I told you guys about how I read American Psyhco by Bret Easton Ellis for a class I took in my final year at University. I read Don DeLillo’s White Noise for this class as well, and it was a pretty enjoyable read, I must admit. It took me a while to read it, yes, but it’s in no way the book’s fault.
(My grandmother had just passed away when I borrowed this book from the library, so it took me a while to get through it after that.)
Before we delve into this book’s plot though, I’d like to look at the definition of the title.
As you guys know, ‘white noise’ is that weird static-y sound you get on televisions or radios that haven’t tuned into a channel or station. It’s a very annoying sound, but leave it in the background long enough and you barely hear it anymore.
Coincidentally, that’s also one of the definitions of ‘white noise’ – noise that you don’t pay attention to anymore after a while; like the sound of construction outside your house for a year straight, or the sound of the train zooming past if you work in a train station. Noise that has no affect on your thought processes or every day life.
Another meaning for white noise is one coming from the world of economy: white noise is an event that is supposed to have a profound effect on the world, but barely leave a mark. This last one is the definition this book deals with.
Jack Gladney is going through his fifth marriage, raising a brood of very mismatched children. His biological son, Heinrich, is an example of Jack’s fascination with Hitler. In fact, Jack teaches Hitler studies at the local university in their suburban, Midwestern town. Jack and his wife, Babette, are deathly afraid of…well, death. But they’re also terribly fascinated by it, finding new things to worry about that could potentially kill them. It’s actually quite strange how excited they get about an event that could kill them.
Somewhere along the book’s plot – it’s winding, beautifully written plot – a chemical spill happens in their town, causing everybody to be evacuated from their home and taken to the community centre to wait until the disaster is averted completely. Jack was outside the house when the spill happened, meaning that he has inhaled just a bit of the toxic gas that was in the air at the time. As a man in his 40s, Jack is quite young still, and is worried that he might die in a few days. The scientists in the town, however, tell him that the toxic chemical takes a very long time to actually affect his body – twenty to thirty years, in fact. By the time the chemical starts to take a significant toll on his body, Jack will be ready to die naturally anyway.
But does Jack listen?
Jack worries himself to death (heh.) and literally becomes all-consumed by his fear of a chemical in his body which is killing him so slowly he can barely notice it happening. Jack literally becomes engrossed in an event that can, effectively, be described as white noise.
I can almost hear you guys just making sounds of realization.
I won’t reveal anymore of what the book deals with, coz there is a lot more that I haven’t mentioned here. But I will say this – it’s a book that makes you really think about your mortality, and about what’s really important in life. The life that Jack and his family lead is a very superficial, material one (not as material as Patrick Bateman’s life, though), and reading this book really does put certain things into perspective.
Final rating: 4/5.
Quotes I Liked: