Context: listened to this while I took the car to get its MOT. It failed, then, after some new front brake hoses and a tyre, it passed.
A loooooong time ago, a very good friend of mine and I decided that we’d read a book together. He was in the US, I was in South Korea at the time. He said he’d found me a copy of this in a second-hand bookshop and he’d sent it over. It never arrived. We never did read it together. Now that I’ve just finished listening to it though, I know why he wanted me to read it.
Jack Gladney is a father, a husband, a college lecturer. He lives the usual middle-age suburban North American life. But underneath this simplistic vision of peace there are currents of fear which flow ultimately into a vast bottomless ocean. The name of this ocean? Death.
This is a novel exploring our responses to fear and death. I thought it was great. I thought it was brave, touching, humorous and kind of sad. I thought DeLillo wrote with genius. It was the total opposite of my experiences with the only other book of his I’ve read: Underworld. Compared to that, White Noise is the easiest and most interesting book you’ve ever read.
Death isn’t something that many writers tangle with much, from my experience. Not really. It might feature in novels but I can’t remember another novel I’ve read that tackles this so head on. Come to think of it, that’s pretty strange. I mean, it is, without question, the only experience apart that we’ve all got coming to us. And yet, we don’t really deal with it at all. I guess that’s reflected in the way people write too.
I’ve not got a problem with death. I’m looking forward to it. Most people think I’m mad, or at least morbid. I think it was summed up for me when Jack asks his wonderfully quotable colleague, Murray “Doesn’t our knowledge of death make life more precious?” only to get the reply “What good is a preciousness based on fear and anxiety? It’s an anxious quivering thing.” Too right. A great coincidence (these things always happen to me) as I watched Leon (aka The Professional in NAmerica) while I was listening to this. In it, the hideous Stansfield says “It’s when you start to become really afraid of death that you learn to appreciate life.” How’s that for synchronicity?
But if you don’t fear death and have no anxiety about it, not only does life become precious, death does too. You prepare for it, you anticipate it. You’re thankful for every day that you live here and you make some kind of preparation for not being here. Makes sense to me. Anyone else?
The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus.
California deserves whatever it gets. Californians invented the concept of life-style. This alone warrants their doom.
I’ve got death inside me. It’s just a question of whether or not I can outlive it.
The cults of the famous and the dead.