Sunday, July 22, 2012

Underworld - Don DeLillo

The day Bobby Johnson hit a home run to win the National League title for Giants against Dodgers, USSR successfully detonated the second Nuclear Bomb. Don DeLillo's master piece starts at this moment, with the match description and the boy who managed to collect the ball that went into the crowd, which his alcoholic father sells to an enthusiast for 23 Dollars.

The united states in the second half 20th century, the war is won and after the nuclear bomb is dropped in Japan. The imminent threat of USSR are looming in the air, the world is getting divided between the Socialists and Capitalist economies. USSR is building capabilities to compete with the mighty US. The explosion of the Nuclear Bomb is one of their signal to the other world of their intention. Cold war between the nations are at the peak. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the McCarthy era, nuclear proliferation and the rest of the events that was prominent in the 50 years since the World War. The common lives in the US is deeply influenced by the effects of cold war. The anxiety, the fear resulting in various precautionary measures. Children are brought up with emergency measures. These realities of the new world is the back drop of DeLillo's novel.

However, DeLillo construct his mammoth book around Nick Shay, a garbage and waste collection and disposal expert ( who incidentally now owns the baseball that was hit for the home run in 1951. Nick with a past of an accidental murder, being in juvenile retention center before beginning his new life at a Jesuit Reform School. Most of the events revolve around Nick and his immediate surroundings, his wife who harbors an illicit relation with his close friend, his brother, other friends and colleagues. Structurally told in reverse chronological order fro the 90s to the 50s through it various incidents rebuilding the life during cold war.

With these loosely held narrative, he builds the modern American society under the influence of the economic and political scene. However, this book is not much of a plot, a character development or a story. Its about writing. May be that is why the experience is in reading. Its too intelligent to the reader. Its is too perfect from the construction and the formation of words , sentences and paragraphs. In its effect to retain the medium at its prime, the rest are not given much importance. The world continue to discuss this as a literary phenomenon ( as the greatest American Novel of 20th century and all that) is precisely comes from this ambiguity that he build around his own world. The controlling hand of the writer is omnipresent often hindering the smooth reading. Which is why even after reading this mammoth book, one can not warm up to it.

The reaction within me was contradictory. Glorious at times, Boring and pretentious at places, engaging and interesting at places, yet dull and dragging at other times. Its massive, by size and accomplishment. Its definitely not an easy read and not easy to fully comprehend. I think he manages to bring out the frustration, fear, anxiety and related major events during the cold war years. At the end, its a sense of relief after you are through with 830 pages.
Underworld ( 1997 )

Don DeLillo


827 pages
Wiki Entry, Guardian, Review and Responses, The New Canon

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