Underworld

by Don DeLillo

Hardcover, 1997

Status

Available

Publication

New York, NY : Scribner, c1997.

Description

A 1950s teenage hood from New York is transformed by the Jesuits into a respectable man, managing hazardous waste. A portrait of the decade from the viewpoint of the garbage industry.

Media reviews

'"Underworld" is a victim of its own ambition: by trying to cover such a wide range of characters and situations, DeLillo loses track of some of them' ... 'Despite its faults DeLillo has created an ambitious and powerful novel...'
1 more
This "is his best novel and perhaps that most elusive of creatures, a great American novel."

User reviews

LibraryThing member Ganeshaka
Ah, our sad spinning globe...worn ragged by wars, bruised and dirtied by technology. Don DeLillo grabs it, still spinning, on its flight of October 3, 1951. Grips it like a knuckleball pitcher. One fingernail dug firmly into the historic Giants-Dodgers playoff game. Another nail dug into the first successful Soviet A-Bomb test. He holds the orb up, examines it like Lenny Bruce pondering a rap, and lets fly a granddaddy of all butterfly pitches.

Swing. Try and connect with it if you can. You're sure to get a piece. Whistling vortexes grabbing at this globe's seams. It ducks towards the life of Nick Shay, son of a small time bookie, who is trying to deal with his father's disappearance. It dodges toward Klara Sax, a woman struggling to find her identity as an artist. It hops around Nick's family and neighborhood, and dashes into the future, and the past. And when you swing at it, it turns into the smiling face of Lenny Bruce, shrieking "We're all gonna die" and then into the Mona Lisa smile of an obscure junkie, who IS about to die. And, oh, it turns into Bobby Thomson's home run ball, bouncing through bleacher seats, about to change into a holy grail, provenance unkown.

The novel's structure is like a shuffled deck made of cards from its characters lives. The narrative, at one point, swirls past that famous monument to found art - the Watts Tower and takes on its magic, dazzling the reader as bits and pieces of multiple characters' pasts and futures come together and suggest grander themes concerning ...the environment? ...capitalism?...the human comedy?

The best parts of Underworld (the very best were the Lenny Bruce monologues) reminded me of the lyricism of The Great Gatsby and On the Road. Boats being beat back by the current; the land stretching away beyond New Jersey... and God as Pooh Bear.

Our earth, the paradox, still spinning, still circling and yet - and it takes an artist like DeLillo to tell this part - "Going... going...gone!"
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Not only was this book a bestseller, you can find superlatives among the blurbs like "great American novel" and "thrilling page-turner." This book was runner-up in a 2006 New York Times survey of eminent authors and critics for best American novel in the last 25 years. All I can say is I felt about this novel the way I do about many a purported masterpiece hung in the Museum of Modern Art. Good God, why?

By the end of a short section after Part One, 150 pages in of 827, I knew this book wasn't for me and stopped reading things through. (I did skim through the rest though.) I read even that far because the novel was on a list of literary fiction I'd been working through. I knew it was considered a difficult work and wanted to give it a fair chance to win me over. Otherwise, I would have stopped at the second page of story.

I not only don't find this is a great book and a "page-turner," I think it's badly written. Let me give you examples of why--examples right from the first two pages that I'm sure many a critic think are the very signs of genius and might let you know if this is a book you would find a keeper or would leave you cold:

He has never done this before and he doesn't know any of the others and only two or three of them seem to know each other but they can't do this thing singly or in pairs so they have found one another by means of slidy looks that detect the fellow foolhard and here they stand, black kids and white kids up from the subways or off the local Harlem streets, lean shadows, bandido, fifteen in all, and according to topical legend maybe four will get through for every one that's caught.

Ah yes, the beloved run-on endless-sentence-of-doom, which, like the very doorstop length of the book, is supposed to demonstrate profundity. Let's have another sentence shall we?

The faces of the ticket sellers hung behind the windows like onions on strings.

Somehow, unlike Virginia Woolf's description of flowers like fresh laundry in Mrs Dalloway, this doesn't do it for me. Forced metaphors like this abound. Here, have one more sentence that struck me as typically clumsy:

Some are jumping, some are thinking about it, some need a haircut, some have girlfriends in woolly sweaters and the rest have landed in the ruck and are trying to get up and scatter.

This is in reference to 15 boys jumping the turnstiles to see a baseball game without paying for a ticket. So how is needing a haircut or having girlfriends in woolly sweaters relevant or add to the narrative at this point?

All these quotes are from the Prologue of 60 pages that was published separately as "Pafko at the Wall." Even some reviewers who counted Underworld a mess thought that section brilliant. So if you don't find that Prologue a work of genius I don't think you're going to be in love with the rest of the book.

I think that Prologue does say a lot about Delillo. Both it and a great deal of the book hangs on baseball as a metaphor for American culture. The Prologue is about a legendary game between the Giants and Dodgers in 1951--through it we follow not just one of those turnstile jumpers but characters like J Edgar Hoover and Jackie Gleason--who is described vividly and repellingly as throwing up on Frank Sinatra. That turnstile jumper, who skipped school and slipped in without paying for a ticket, finds a seat and is befriended by a man who buys him a soda. At the end of the game he'll wrench this man's fingers to pry the home-run baseball out of his hand. So, if baseball is America, then the message is America is grasping, greedy, thieving, treacherous and repellent. (One thing about Delillo is there's nothing subtle about how he pounds out his themes.)

The bulk of the book then deals with the man who ultimately bought that baseball--Nick Shay--who is in waste management. When we turn to him in Part One, the omniscience of the Prologue with touches of second person turns to first person for this part, but there are still a lot of the hallmarks of the prose style of the Prologue. We get this long rambling scene in this part about condoms. The first person narrative is more accessible, but still at times disjointed, and we're headed to another extended metaphor: American culture as trash.

You can tell looking at the section title pages that the main story is non-linear; like Pinter's Betrayal or the film Memento you work yourself backward from the early 90s to the early 50s in each of the 6 parts until you hit the epilogue set in the near future. After Part One, the point of view will shift again between first and third person. Nothing about this book is straightforward--not the prose, point-of-view, narrative, characters or the very thin plot.

In short, if you're looking for a gripping story with characters you care about and a narrative that sucks you in, you're looking in the wrong place. But if you're a fan of "post-modern literature" with disjointed narratives and turgid, abstruse prose that revels in showing us the tawdriness of American life, by all means, go pick up a copy.
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LibraryThing member roblong
(This has ended up as a bit of a waffling review sorry; in my defence it’s a big book!)

After being unimpressed by Falling Man I was a bit of a Don-sceptic, and remain so. I wanted to love this book: I love the ambition of it, the size of the themes (in a nutshell, American life in the second half of the 20th century) and the need to deal with them as a whole, the crunch in some of the writing, and much of the scattershot approach. One section, a collection of “fragments Public and Private in the 1950s and 1960s”, I thought excellent, putting across a captivating picture of a time by magnifying scattered episodes in the various characters’ lives. It was a condensed version of what I think the book as a whole hoped to achieve but, imho, generally didn’t.

I think there are some pretty big flaws in the book. The main one is that the characters are rarely, if ever, engaging. I didn’t care where Nick Shay’s father had gone, nor how he ended up in a juvenile detention centre (not spoilers btw, points brought in early on), or about any of the characters except the boy who grabs the baseball at the book’s beginning, and his father, who recurs in three episodes. For a book over 800 pages long, this is a big deal – losing the traditional linear narrative is fine, fitting even, but the reader losing empathy for the characters is fatal. Often they seemed too weighed down by the books’ themes to breathe, and the knock-on effects in getting involved with them (and by extension those themes) becomes difficult. By the last hundred and fifty pages, I just wanted it to be over.

Another beef is that a lot of themes and plot points are raised and then fall away, or come to nothing – there is an irritating preoccupation with the number 13 that seems to go nowhere except to portray a vague sense of doom and weakness in the face of fate. A plotline about a highway murderer doesn’t fulfill its promise; the media preoccupation with a movie of one of the killings echoes that surrounding the Zapruder film, which itself makes an appearance later in the text, but this display of a changing culture and the sources of its obsessions didn’t feel very satisfying. I was never far away from thinking “Yes, I see. And your point?”, and that ain’t good.

That’s not to be totally disparaging, far from it; there’s some superb writing throughout (even the bad bits are written well, and the good bits, particularly the baseball game and the scenes with Lenny Bruce’s comedy routines, are brilliant), and it constantly seeks to challenge, which is a fine thing. I’d say there’s a lot to study here, and that’s both a mark of respect and an alienating thing – I can imagine someone writing a big essay on this book and taking more from it with further and deeper reading, but it’s hard to imagine someone loving it. Personally I don’t think I’d want to go back to it, or that it will live particularly long in the memory.

One last thought: I kept thinking, even at its best moments, that this is a book which will make no sense to anyone except cultural historians in fifty years’ time; it’s too locked into the time and place, with all the internal reference points which someone from the time will recognise but are bound to, in future, pass people by. Even for me (I was 7 when the Berlin Wall came down), being part of a new era made engaging with the text even harder than it would otherwise be. Again, that’s not necessarily a huge flaw, but it does limit the audience who will really be able to appreciate the book.
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LibraryThing member downstreamer
Underworld, by Don DeLilo (1997), is a colossal book, written on a colossal scale. Having just finished the book I am left wondering whether it actually holds together. First of all, it needs to be noted that Underworld is over 800 pages of brilliant prose. There's no taking that away from DeLilo. Each sentence is structured beautifully and the dialogue is word perfect. The ingredients of the book are strong. It's the connective tissue, the plot, and the sometimes tenuous linkage of themes, which ultimately leave something wanting for me.

I'm a big fan of DeLilo, so I'm used to the eliptical choppiness of his writing. Much of DeLilo's writing can be viewed as pastiche, with deliberate mixing of styles. Deadpan depressive passages brush up easily against patches of black humor. White Noise, for example, has chapters of beautiful descriptive weight, followed by pure bathos, undercutting what has gone before. The deliberate disjunctions of Great Jones Street and The Names (two of my favorite DeLilo books) represent an attempt to approach a single subject from multiple perspectives, and are effective because the books are short enough for the reader to remember, contain, and make the connections which DeLilo leaves out. But in Underworld there are parts which just don't seem to fit in at all. This problem, coupled with the sheer length of the book, makes it hard to contain the story, such as it is, and makes me think that the book would have been better had it been edited down. It's a compendium of too much.

Underworld starts off with a lengthy Prologue, telling the story of the famous 1951 World Series baseball game which culminated in the home run by Bobby Thompson, famously dubbed “The Shot Heard Round the World”. Present at the game are J. Edgar Hoover, Jackie Gleason, and Frank Sinatra, sitting together. While at the game Hoover gets news of another shot from the other side of the world, the first test firing of an atomic bomb in the Soviet Union. Both “shots” serve as plot structures in Underworld. The fate of the baseball as it lands in the stands and is fought over and changes hands is one thread leading out. The other thread is the nuclear theme. After the home run spectators shower the field with paper. A large page from Life magazine lands on Hoover. It is a double page spread of Hieronomous Bosch's grotesque painting, “The Triumph of Death.” Hoover is mesmerized by the scene. Much later, in the book's Epilogue, Nick (the main narrator) visits a present day nuclear waste facility in Kazakhstan and is shown a facility which houses the actual freak show of deformed patients which Hoover saw in the Bosch painting. Nick, of course, is unconnected to Hoover, apart from his owning what might be the actual baseball from the actual World Series game. Such are the tenuous plot connections.

As in Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, waste is a dominant theme in Underworld. Nick's job is in waste management, and much of the book is a meditation on the byproducts of consumer culture. Another theme which DeLilo shares with Pynchon in Underworld is that of betrayal, a theme which Pynchon explores so well in Vineland. The first betrayal in Underworld is by a father who sells the famous world series baseball which his son fought over and brought home. Other betrayals between husband and wife resonate throughout the book. None of the book is chronological, jumping around from early fifties to the mid nineties in freewheeling style. Elements of theme are eked out slowly, and the plot follows a backward trajectory.

Along the way Lenny Bruce's routines feature heavily. Hoover is also a key player, and we are allowed to see inside his psyche with such well crafted sentences as this:
“In the endless estuarial mingling of paranoia and control, the dossier was an essential device. Edgar had many enemies-for-life and the way to deal with such people was to compile massive dossiers.” (p. 559)
DeLilo has always been good at describing landscape in such a way as to infuse it with the innermost musings and fears of his characters. Arroyos, hinterlands, desert wastes, unmapped areas and estuarial minglings are powerful metaphorical repositories of experience, as are rooftops, waste lots and heavily peopled Bronx neighborhoods.

In the end the payoff is not as great as the effort. Underworld is contained finally, in the same way that a twist tie contains a garbage sack. There are tremendous passages of sustained brilliance, done in DeLilo's patented lapidary style, but overall the sum of the parts doesn't quite add up to a well fashioned whole.
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LibraryThing member veevoxvoom
One of those books that is intelligent and well-written and has a lot to say, but is actually also really boring. I think I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I will never be a Don DeLillo fan.
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
My very favorite DeLillo novel even though I don't like baseball. I love the way he creates a binding thread of things to join all his characters together. The cover photograph of the World Trade towers is spooky...
LibraryThing member moonmash
Don Delillo’s cold-war opus, Underworld, leaves me underwhelmed. The scope of the novel – over 800 pages, divided into prologue, seven main parts, and an epilogue, littered with over 100 characters, spanning from the 1950s to the dawn of the internet-era in the 90s – just did not hang together for me. There is a certain flatness and thinness that mires the total-effect of the narrative; it’s difficult to divine the basic thrust linking all these themes (the mind-numbing hum of 20th century technological America, mortality, nihilism, violence, marital infidelity, love, luck, etc.) and all these sundry minor characters that Delillo summons to stand for them (the Texas Highway-Killer, for instance, appears throughout the middle of the book for several lengthy sections but seems to have no bearing on the book as a whole).

But perhaps this sense of sprawling disjunction is precisely Delillo’s desired effect. Delillo is here, as elsewhere, interested in the historical—“longing on a large scale is what makes history” (11)—which precludes centering a novel on a single character, relationship, or theme. If the book has a “hero” (although the counterpane’d texture of it would seem precisely to preclude any gestures of classical heroism) it is the Hemingwayesque Nick Shay. Nick, or Nicky, as he is known in the 50s-era Bronx parts of the book, is, like many Delillo heroes, a twist on the classical all-American guy; he’s got a family, a wife, kids, and a corporate job, but a past, a sin, a violent secret (the killing of a man in a bar when he was seventeen) that separates him out from the typical grain.

The problem with this America spinning around the psyche of Shay, his family, and his lovers—such as the older artist Klara Sax, who, on some level, seems to verge on a second protagonist, but remains marginal and undeveloped, I think—is that it’s not totally clear how the threat of nuclear war or the Cold War culture bear on that psyche. The novel’s minor characters are at turns funny, tragic, and wax philosophical, but are ultimately all vaporous, appearing splendidly in a puff of Delillo’s taut prose, then disappearing just as suddenly. The sprawling variety of the book—hop-scotching back-and-forth across years, people and places—suggests a grand narrative, but one never materializes. One is left with a numbness and a vague hope. A dry hope at best. But maybe, as I said earlier, all of this is Delillo’s point. The question is how one ought to respond to this. Perhaps it is an artistic failure. Or perhaps I'm just missing the point.
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LibraryThing member PrincessPaulina
* NO Spoilers were used in the writing of this review! *

These are 827 pages that I never wanted to end.
The gorgeous writing and kaleidoscope of ideas have the effect of a revelation.

I now - unwillingly - compare all other books to this one.
It saddens me that Underworld appears to be under appreciated...
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LibraryThing member tmiddleton
This needs some explaining. After rating many hundreds of read books, this one had me the most perplexed as to how to rate it. I was thinking, either a 3 or a 5. A three>, or a five?! It was suggested I average it out as a 4, but that seemed to me to just misrepresent both ratings.

There is no question for me that the writing in this book is 5 star, all the way. Though the lengthy baseball stadium scene at the beginning, packed with American cliches and the slapstick team of Hoover and Gleason, started me off decisively thinking I was not at all going to like this book, it won me over with its amazing presentation and acute powers of observation. To my amazement I found myself eventually able to see the baseball game (and fans) from a whole other perspective than I thought possible. This is 5 star stuff. And it just keeps going, and going, and going...

And yet, honestly, the book is extremely American, and as much as I'm dazzled by the writing and observations, the characters and content just don't speak to me personally very much. Hence, for me, though the writing is top notch, I can't get much beyond "liked it" (3 stars).

So, seeking enlightenment, I naturally read a bunch of reviews here to get a sense of how others have evaluated this work. There's very little middle ground. There's a blanket of 4 and 5 stars, peppered with shotgun blasts of of 1 star holes.

The 1 star hits are, without a doubt, the more substantial (sadly) and fun to read. I guess the 5 star reviewers are just too in awe and humbled to attempt to write anything insightful after completing the masterpiece? What more is there to say?

I am in entire sympathy with most of the 1 star reviews I read. Yes, the book really feels long. Yes, what "plot" there is, there hardly is. Yes, Delillo is brutally long winded. Yes, it can't help but drag on probably even the most ardent fan in places. Yes, it's really hard to hang on to the thread, and not drift off into the aether of words.

I am in sympathy with those who "did not like", for these reasons. They are justified in this perspective. And yet I am also sad. They seem to have missed so much. I feel, when confronted with such a sweeping, complexly structured, and yet minutely detailed work as this, that the lack is in us the readers rather than in the text. This is a work we really do need to expand ourselves and apply ourselves to connect with, as lovers of literature, lovers of observation, and lovers of life.

And so, slightly ironically, it was the delightful and painful one star reviews that pushed me from the middle of the road into the extremely starry expanse. This book deserves the stars, even if I don't entirely feel them.

I still like White Noise more (the only other Delillo I've thus far read) -- though it has less stars from me.

I hope this explanation of my here aberrant rating is satisfactory (to me).
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LibraryThing member agnesmack
I started out really loving this book. At 827 pages, it was quite a commitment and it came at just the right time - I was looking to totally immerse myself in a story of epic proportions. While it started out that way, it didn't hold my interest quite as well as I'd hoped.

If this book is any indication, there's no questioning DeLillo's place among the great living literary legends. He is an expert manipulator of the English language and he managed to make it easy to keep track of dozens of characters. The fact that this book centered around a baseball game didn't hurt either.

I did enjoy reading this book but it also felt so massive, so serious and so “Very Important”, that I felt overwhelmed by it, and found myself needing to put it down and pick up another book, for days at a time. I've felt this way about books before, but with other books it's been a case of being emotionally exhausted by an extremely intense narrative. In this case, I just got tired of listening to him wax philosophical.

In summation : It was an excellent book, though I've seen it listed a few times as one of the top 5 American novels of all time, and with that I have to disagree. I would recommend it to someone who wants to become totally immersed in a long tale, and someone who likes non-linear plots, as it does jump around constantly, from one decade to another.
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LibraryThing member the_awesome_opossum
Underworld is a stream of consciousness novel, but with a caveat: I don't mean the consciousness of an individual, but collective consciousness, the consciousness of a nation over the course of several generations. Reading this novel is a peculiar experience because I didn't get especially emotionally connected with any of the characters, and I got the sense that I as a reader wasn't meant to. Instead, characters wander in and out of the story, living their own lives without regard for the audiences' witness.

The common threads that run throughout the meandering narrative are tentative: all about present tension and future anxieties that cannot quite be named, but are undoubtedly there. Characters live lives characterized by "the faith of suspicion and unreality. The faith that replaces God with radioactivity, the power of alpha particles and the all-knowing systems that shape them, the endless fitted links." It's quite modernist, this certainty that there's something in the world that's still worth pursuing but with deep uncertainty about what that might be.

So maybe it's not fair for me to dislike this book because it lacks focus and meaning. That is, after all, the essence of modernism, so I guess it was successful in that respect. But the book had the chance to do something and become the "new Americana," this simultaneous distrust of and nostalgia for the country's past. So I wish it had pursued a sentiment and purpose to that end more strongly, even if it might have transgressed the ethos of modernist literature.
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LibraryThing member FKarr
Nick, who killed a man as a teenager, struggles with his ordinary life and the times in which he lives; the ball from Bobby Thompson's' home run links the past to the present
LibraryThing member GCPLreader
My, what a voluptuous tome. Manifold story lines reveal the story of America in the 2nd half of the 20th century. -recurring motifs of waste and baseball and Cold War- very difficult read (too much like short story collection in parts) and I admit to skimming a few chapters in the 2nd half, but oh so well written.
LibraryThing member GulleyJimson
Hundred pages to go and I really couldn't care less.
LibraryThing member iayork
The bomb, the baseball, and wasteland America.: Nominated for the National Book Award, Don DeLillo's ambitious 1997 historical novel tells the story of Nick Shay, a Phoenix waste management executive, who lives a meaningless life in late 20th Century America, a land of ever-accumulating garbage. (Phoenix becomes a microcosm of existential angst and wasteland America.) His wife, Marian, is having an affair with one of his friends. The novel spans five decades of American history, from the 1950s through the 1990s, opening on October 3, 1951, when a young man named Cotter Martin catches a ball known as "The Shot Heard 'Round the World," after sneaking into a New York Giants-Brooklyn Dodgers baseball game. Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, and Lenny Bruce are also in attendance. As Bobby Thomson was hitting his pennant-winning home run, the Soviets were meanwhile detonating the atomic bomb that put 1950s America in fear of nuclear war. When the story then turns to two lovers in the Nevada desert in 1992, we learn that Shay (who now owns the baseball) served time in a juvenile detention center for murdering a man, before attending a Jesuit reform school in northern Minnesota. Underworld is fascinating look at the effect of the Cold War on the American psyche. It reveals the author of [[ASIN:0140283307 White Noise]] at the top of his form, and DeLillo's brilliant vision of American culture left me in awe.

G. Merritt
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LibraryThing member davidabrams
Underworld by Don DeLillo is huge—huge in the way that the United States is huge. This book, like our nation, is crowded with people, places, events and inexhaustible energy. It’s got jazz, atomic testing, J. Edgar Hoover, flavored condoms, baseball, graffiti artists, inner city nuns, Jayne Mansfield, websites, Lenny Bruce, 50’s doo-wop, chess and Mikhail Gorbachev’s birthmark. And that’s just for starters.

The novel, which was nominated for the National Book Award in 1997, is a gargantuan undertaking by DeLillo (who also wrote Libra and The Names) and it is one of the most breathtaking volumes of literature you’ll read in this or any century.

Underworld covers a lot of territory and envelopes a cast of characters so diverse that DeLillo puts filmmaker Robert Altman to shame. But, just like Altman’s classics Nashville and Short Cuts, everything gels just perfectly by the final page.

The story opens at a baseball game. But not just any baseball game. It is Oct. 3, 1951 and the Dodgers are battling the Giants for the World Series pennant in the final game of the contest. J. Edgar is there, so are Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra, cheering and kvetching and downing ball park franks. Did it really happen this way? Were they really there at the game? Probably not. But I will say this as an aside: DeLillo’s writing was so convincing that when J. Edgar Hoover picked up a discarded Life magazine and was attracted to a photo inside, I wrote to the editors at Life to see if I could get my hands on that back issue just to see what Hoover saw. That’s how compelling DeLillo’s writing is.

Also attending the game is a young boy named Cotter who catches the game-winning home run smacked up into the stands. That one baseball, with its raised seams and tiny smudge of bat tar, resonates throughout the whole book as it passes from hand to hand over the next forty years.

By starting Underworld in New York’s Polo Ground with a crowd of 35,000, DeLillo describes a dizzying array of characters. His sentences—nay, the very words—tumble one after the other, panning from person to person like a restless camera. It’s an incredible feat and it works so well for those first 60 pages that the rest of the novel almost feels a little drained. It’s like putting the high-wire act before the rest of the circus. In fact, this opening prologue is so good, you could tear out the pages, put them behind glass in a museum and call it True Art. Here’s the next-to-last line, coming after fifty-nine pages of atomic literary energy: "Shouts, bat-cracks, full bladders and stray yawns, the sand-grain manyness of things that can’t be counted."

DeLillo’s prose is full of such "sand-grain manyness," moving effortlessly through place and time as it charts its cast of thousands. Central to the story are Nick Shay and Klara Sax who were briefly lovers back in the 1950s and who meet again in the 90s. Events ricochet off these two people, setting off a string of circumstances that, yes, eventually connect to the home-run baseball.

If you like the writings of E.L. Doctorow, you’ll love Underworld which mixes historic figures with fictional characters much like Doctorow’s Ragtime. But DeLillo goes Doctorow one better by infusing these pages with a jazzy rhythm that’s unique and invigorating. His words practically put bubbles in your blood.

Open Underworld at random and you’ll come across some great passages that will stand the test of time. Idly flipping through the pages, I found these two outstanding paragraphs in various locations:

"A photograph is a universe of dots. The grain, the halide, the little silver things clumped in the emulsion. Once you get inside a dot, you gain access to hidden information, you slide inside the smallest event."

"It was the time of Nixon’s fall from office but she didn’t enjoy it the way her friends did. Nixon made her think of her father, another man of frazzled mind, rehearsed in his very step, his physical address, bitter and distant at times, with a loser’s bent frame, all head and hands."

As we close out the last days of this century, I can think of no better book to recommend than Underworld for the way it captures the American character of the past 50 years. DeLillo’s scope is big and breathy and almost, but not quite, stretches itself to the limit. You can practically hear the plausibility twanging like an overstretched rubber band. Even if you can’t quite grasp it all, you know for certain that you’re in the hands of a master.
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LibraryThing member MHelm1017
The depiction of all of the different times and places (including various scenes in New York City) within the later half of twentieth century America are all very sharp, distinct, and vivid.
I have read this novel twice so far, but I would have to read it many more times to understand the rich layers of symbolism. Fortunately, it is so fascinating that I look forward to such a process.… (more)
LibraryThing member jonwwil
I first experienced the work of Don DeLillo in a college class on postmodern American literature. White Noise was easily my least favorite of the novels we read that semester...and yet, for some reason, I keep coming back for more of DeLillo's work. This is the fourth book of his that I've read, and it suffers from the same problems I have with each of the others.

First off, DeLillo's style always leaves me with the feeling that he's just trying too hard. Yes, this does result in some amazing prose, but only in places, and not enough, in my opinion, to justify the off-puttingness of the rest of it. Most writers edit their work to make it more clear; I feel like DeLillo edits his work to make it more obscure. I feel like he's more concerned with the language than he is with the story. There's a balance to be found there, and he just rarely strikes it for me.

On a somewhat related note is that I just never really feel like DeLillo's characters are real people. For me, good literature begins with vivid, real characters--not necessarily likable, but believable, flesh and blood humans in all their glory and fallibility. That's something I've never found in any of DeLillo's work. Now, I know that one theme of postmodern literature is disconnectedness, so maybe that's intentional on his part. I can respect that, but it leaves me cold. I get to the end of the book, and all I really feel is "eh."

Now, all that said, there's definitely something about this book. It has a grand scope, painting a picture of America from the beginning of the Cold War through the beginning of the Internet age. There's no questioning its ambition. It also has some interesting things to say about waste, about war, about culture and environment, and about threads that run through our lives. It was worth reading; I guess I was just hoping for more from a book I had heard so many good things about.

I think I'm going to give DeLillo one more chance. I haven't read any of his short fiction, so I'm looking forward to The Angel Esmeralda, which, from the title, I'm guessing has some connections to Underworld. Hopefully his short stories will grab me in a way his novels have failed to do.
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LibraryThing member theageofsilt
DeLillo's novel of the Zeitgeist of post WWII America would fit comfortably with John Dos Passos' U.S.A. The novel carreens from the 1950's through the late 1990's and includes appearances by Lenny Bruce, J. Edgar Hoover and Frank Sinatra. It visits the Conspiracy Theory Cafe, psilocybin mushrooms and a balloon ride over junked bombers turned into art in the Arizona desert on its way to a final murder and miracle in New York. The heart of the novel lies in the Italian immigrant tenements of the 50's where two boys grow up waiting for a father who went out for a pack of cigarettes and never returned and where a father steals his son's hard-won baseball from a legendary game.… (more)
LibraryThing member littlegeek
I have to admit I loved this book, and it has nothing to do with the extended piece at the beginning re: the famous baseball. Just because I'm a Giants fan....I actually gave my copy to a fellow Giants fan, the first 50 pages of which he devoured on Christmas morning. Oh, I hate November!
But I digress. What I remember of the rest of the book was appreciating its realism. There were conversations in this book that I swear I have personally had with actual people in the real world. An ability to write believable dialogue will win me over bigtime. It's one of those "Great American Novel" kind of books, which I usually despise, but this one worked for me.… (more)
LibraryThing member ablueidol
Well...The opening chapter was stunning in the way it reads like in you were seeing the action in a film with the camera weaving around the stadium switching from wide shot to close up. It was also clever in setting up the themes and plot lines...the start of the cold war and its impact...loss...and the mystery/holy grail hunt for the baseball.., and waste(of human life and of the environment. This continues when we meet the main character at the end of the cold war and the planes of war being turned into art and start to learn about some major event in their lives some 40 years ago that is going to unwind and make clear the rest of the story.

Which it does as you meet his brother, his wife, his partner, his science teachers and then the characters in their lives and so on. They begin to flesh out the political and emotional implications of the cold war and the waste internal and external this represents. Unlike a lot of the critical reviews I did feel that his characters were well sketched.

I did get 2/3s of the way through but the reason for abandoning it was that it didn't emotionally engage me. And the reason for this is that for me it lacked a dramatic drive that pushed me to find out if all the story lines were resolved. Because of this I was "analysing" its processes rather then able to live the story in my imagination. A important factor for this was the(have a stiff drink here!) basis of why it is a highly skilled novel...its Americanness. Getting around the book and knowing what period and location and so being emotionally engaged depended on getting the cultural/social history clues which as a non-American does not have the same resonance.

Here I am thinking of a similar story that was written from the British perspective. It would have a problem of finding a universal sport as cricket, tennis and football have class connotations and the nearest to a game having the 1951 spot was the 1966 world cup which was a very different era. So the British story would have focused on the loss of empire and the political and social changes this required over the same time period. Our crime patten is very different so the mobster angle would have focused on London and the London gangs. We could not have had a Texas Highway mass murder given our gun laws. Our mass murders are more domestic. We would not even had the popular TV stars of the 50's has we were about 10 years behind in TV access. Hence as the story that is about American experiences and cultural perspective it dramatic weakness means it lost its hold over me.

Just to sweeten the pill I moved on to Post Office by Charles Bukowski which is equally American as a British equivalent of this would be Saturday's night, Sunday morning by Alan Sillitoe but which grips from the opening lines as it types into universalise experiences of bad jobs, being screwed over, self hate etc. Its the first I have read of his but now a fan!
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LibraryThing member autumnesf
A baseball - that connects so many lives. Too many. Had a hard time keeping up with all the different characters and the time jumps.
LibraryThing member eswnr
It's worth 800-odd pages just for Lenny Bruce screaming "WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE"!

And the "shot heard 'round the world" part is pretty incredible too. Further opinions forthcoming on a pending reread, but I read it 7-8 years ago and those are the parts that have stuck with me.
LibraryThing member skylightbooks
This is easily DeLillo's best work, combining the pathos of "Libra" with the distanced analysis of "White Noise;" a meditation on baseball, garbage, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Bomb. The prologue alone stands as one of the best short stories I've ever read. "Underworld" may very well be the novel that captures the zeitgeist of the last decade of the American century. -Charles… (more)
LibraryThing member cat-ballou
There should be a "read-enough" shelf. I do not like this book. I didn't like it while I was reading it, I'm not liking it while I'm thinking about it, I resent it sitting on my bedside table taking up vaulable book real estate. I cannot recall what it is about and I don't think I even understood while I was actively reading it but it's been so long I just don't know. The writing, as it were, is on the wall. I'm giving up on this terrible, terrible book.

To put this giving-up in context, this book is the only - the ONLY - book I haven't completed once it got onto my list. I don't know what it says about me that I will waste my time reading complete crap even after I realize the completeness of it crappiness, but it definitely says something about this book that even I will not waste any more of my time on it. Don DeLillo, you should be ashamed of yourself.
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