White Noise is a meditation on themes of whiteness—the pallor of death, and white noise, the sound, so emblematic of modern life, that is meant to soothe human beings by screening out the other, more irritating noises of their civilization.
This seems to me quite a good sick joke, worthy of Terry Southern. Forty years after his death, Hitler is still almost a taboo subject for jokes. We remember ‘Springtime for Hitler’. Survivors of the Titanic disaster don’t care for jests on the theme.
White Noise seems all the more timely and frightening—precisely because of its totally American concerns, its rendering of a particularly American numbness.
Discovering malevolence in things and systems rather than in people is a little callow, especially when DeLillo’s solemn moralizing overruns his comedy. Perhaps that is why, after eight books, he still seems like a writer making a debut.
A friend told me I should read White Noise before writing off DeLillo. It was a good tip. The protagonist is charming, the dialogue is clever, the themes (spookily) relevant, the airborne events toxic.— Brian Flanagan