White Noise, by Don Delillo. This novel is a black comedy about Hitler historian Jack Gladney, his fourth wife, Babette, and their kids, many of whom are from various prior unions. Gladney’s a large man who wears academic robes and dark glasses and enjoys a certain stature in his academic niche, despite an embarrassing inability to speak German. When his small, seemingly-idyllic college town encounters a toxic cloud of chemical waste, Gladney’s relationships—to other people, and to his own mortality—get pretty skewed. I found the dialogue very funny, particularly the polite scuffling between Gladney and his wife over who will die first. DeLillo doesn’t try too hard to make the adults speak like real people, but the kids sound like kids. Pills that dull fear of death, a third-act gun, the comfort of supermarkets—all these details of American life are turned around like mirrors and shine back on the reader a skewed and discomfiting reflection of our culture. Written in the 1980s but even more meaningful today.
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