Underworld

( 53 )

Overview

A finalist for the National Book Award, Don DeLillo’s most powerful and riveting novel—“a great American novel, a masterpiece, a thrilling page-turner” (San Francisco Chronicle)—Underworld is about the second half of the twentieth century in America and about two people, an artist and an executive, whose lives intertwine in New York in the fifties and again in the nineties. With cameo appearances by Lenny Bruce, J. Edgar Hoover, Bobby Thompson, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason and Toots Shor, “this is DeLillo’s most...

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Overview

A finalist for the National Book Award, Don DeLillo’s most powerful and riveting novel—“a great American novel, a masterpiece, a thrilling page-turner” (San Francisco Chronicle)—Underworld is about the second half of the twentieth century in America and about two people, an artist and an executive, whose lives intertwine in New York in the fifties and again in the nineties. With cameo appearances by Lenny Bruce, J. Edgar Hoover, Bobby Thompson, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason and Toots Shor, “this is DeLillo’s most affecting novel…a dazzling, phosphorescent work of art” (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times).

Don DeLillo was awarded the 1999 Jerusalem Prize for a writer whose work expresses the theme of freedom of the individual in society.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
One was a book that everyone was reading: Don DeLillo's Underworld. I'd read the first chapter, then titled "Pafko at the Wall," when it was published in Harper's in 1993 and presumed that it was a self-contained novella (a brilliant one, the best fiction about baseball ever written and, I'm happy to admit, a piece that taught me all kinds of stuff that I was able to use in my own novel, The Veracruz Blues). When I heard that DeLillo had subsumed this masterpiece into a much longer novel, I could barely wait for its publication. The Friday the book came out, I stood outside the door of my local bookstore while a clerk opened the just-delivered boxes. I went home that weekend and read the book greedily, awestruck, afraid, and stunned by DeLillo's paranoid wonderland of material and technique. Underworld is that rare, big, advertised-as-good-for-you novel that makes good on its promises. Even better, I had the pleasure of being the first kid on my block to have read it, which I have spent the last few weeks lording over the many friends of mine who are now in the middle of the thing (I should not be proud of this, I know; sue me).

—Mark Winegardner

From the Publisher
Underworld is a “dazzling and prescient novel…A decade after 9/11, it’s worth rereading Don DeLillo’s 1997 masterpiece to appreciate how uncannily the author not only captured the surreal weirdness of life in the second half of the 20th century but also anticipated America’s lurch into the terror and exigencies of the new millennium...A breathtaking set piece…the prologue is a bravura display of Mr. DeLillo's literary powers."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Newsweek - Malcolm Jones
"There's pleasure on evey page of this pitch-perfect evocation of a half-century."
The Baltimore Sun - Joan Mellen
"Underworld is a page-turner and a masterwork, a sublime novel and a delight to read."
The Seattle Times - Greg Burkman
"Masterpieces teach you how to read them, and Underworld is no exception....Anastonishing piece of prose and a benchmark of twentieth-century fiction, Underworld is stunnigly beautiful in its generous humanity, locating the true power of history not in tyranny, collective political movements of history books, but inside each of us."
Salman Rushdie
"Underworld is magnificent book by an American master."
Michael Ondaatje
"The book is an aria and a wolf-whistle of our half century. It contains multitudes."
The New York Times
A decade after 9/11, it's worth rereading Don DeLillo's 1997 masterpiece, "Underworld," to appreciate how uncannily the author not only captured the surreal weirdness of life in the second half of the 20th century but also anticipated America's lurch into the terror and exigencies of the new millennium.

The novel, whose original cover, unnervingly, features an image of the World Trade Center towers surrounded by fog and looming over a small church, focuses on the cold war years. But its portrait of life under the shadow of the atomic bomb — this thing "they had brought" into the world that "out-imagined the mind" — is immediately recognizable. As he did so astutely in earlier novels, Mr. DeLillo depicts an America in thrall to celebrity, technology and the mass media, a country afflicted with paranoia and confusion, a country in which there are no limits to the power of money, and "violence is easier now, it's uprooted, out of control, it has no measure anymore."

Though "Underworld" pivots around the experiences of one Nick Shay, a hero who shares his creator's Bronx childhood and Roman Catholic upbringing, it unfolds into a panoramic portrait of America, charting the intersecting lives of dozens of characters, famous and obscure — baseball fans and conspiracy fanatics, hustlers, con men, businessmen, scientists and artists. The novel moves from the streets of New York to the suburbs to the New Mexico desert, cutting back and forth from the 1950s to the 1990s, and in doing so gives us a visceral sense of how private lives and public events, the personal and the collective, can converge, with explosive force.

Readers put off by the novel's 800-plus page length should sample its prologue: a breathtaking 50-odd-page set piece that seamlessly captures the experience of 35,000 people watching the famous ballgame of Oct. 3, 1951, in which the Giants beat the Dodgers to win the pennant race — a game that happened to take place on the very same day that America learned that the Soviet Union had exploded an atomic bomb, and the cold war took a deadly new turn. This prologue is such a bravura display of Mr. DeLillo's literary powers, odds are the reader will be propelled through the rest of this dazzling and prescient novel. --(Michiko Kakutani)

Library Journal
In DeLillo's newest...luminaries gathered in a box at the New York Polo Grounds to watch the Dodgers and the Giants battle it out for the pennant receive word that the Russians are testing an atomic bomb. DeLillo then flashes forward through a half-century of the Cold War as seen through the eyes of two protagonists briefly united by their passionate affair. BOMC and Quality Paperback Book Club main selections.
Martin Amis
....The new novel is Don DeLillo's wake for the cold war....Underworld surges with magisterial confidence through time...and through space...mingling fictional characters with various heroes of cultural history.
The New York Times Books of the Century, Oct. 5, 1997
Joan Mellen
A page-turner and a masterwork.
Baltimore Sun
Melvin Jules Bukiet
Utterly extraordinary....In its epic ambition and accomplishment, Underworld calls out for comparison with works...that have defined the consciousness of their age.
Chicago Tribune
Greg Burkman
An astonishing piece of prose and a benchmark of 20th-century fiction, Underworld is stunningly beautiful in its generous humanity.
Seattle Times
Michiko Kakutani
DeLillo's most affecting novel yet...a dazzling, phosphorescent work of art.
The New York Times
Michael Dirda
Read and rejoice....Formidable characters, themes, language....Underworld delivers on every count.
The Washington Post
David Wiegand
Underworld is [DeLillo's] best novel and perhaps that most elusive of creatures, a great American novel...
San Francisco Chronicle
Kirkus Reviews

Working at the top of his form, DeLillo draws on his previous novels (Mao II, 1991, Libra, 1988, etc.) in shaping his most ambitious work yet, a grand Whitmanesque epic of postwar American life—a brainy, streetwise, and lyrical underground history of our times, full of menace and miracles, and humming with the bop and crackle of postmodern life.

DeLillo's bottom-up chronicle is also the history of garbage, from a rubble-strewn lot in the Bronx to nuclear waste dumps in the Southwest. And the true-blue American who spans these landscapes is one Nick Shay, now an executive with a waste-management firm, once a j.d. on the not-so-mean streets, where his father kept book and his mother worried her rosary for her two boys, the other a chess prodigy who later lends his mathematical genius to the weapons industry. From the '50s on, DeLillo's always accessible narrative is also the history of a baseball, the one that was the "Shot Heard Round the World," Bobby Thomson's pennant-winning home run in 1951. The fate of the actual ball, a relic of spiritual significance, seemingly lost, is also a lesson in enterprise. Snagged by a young black kid from Harlem, who identifies with Thomson's Homeric homer, the ball quickly becomes an object of commerce, purloined by the boy's desperate father. Eventually, Nick acquires it, but for him it more properly commemorates failure: Branca's losing pitch. Beyond garbage and baseball, DeLillo surveys the Cold War years with a satirist's eye for meaningful detail and a linguist's ear for existential patter.

Sweeping in scope and design, incorporating such diverse figures as Lenny Bruce and J. Edgar Hoover, DeLillo's masterpiece shouts against the times in the language of the times: postmodernism against itself. He kicks the rock of reality, teases out the connectedness of things, and leaves us in awe.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684848150
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 7/9/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 832
  • Sales rank: 130,502
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo is the author of fifteen novels, including Underworld, Falling Man, White Noise, and Libra. He has won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize for his complete body of work, and the William Dean Howells Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2010, he was awarded the PEN/Saul Bellow Prize. The Angel Esmeralda was a finalist for the 2011 Story Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. In October 2012, DeLillo receives the Carl Sandburg Literary Award for his body of work.

Biography

Growing up in his working class Bronx neighborhood in the 1940s and '50s, Don De Lillo was far more interested in sports than in books. A listless student, he did not develop an interest in reading until he was 18 and working a summer job as a parking attendant. Desperate to fill in the long, boring hours of downtime, he discovered the literature of Faulkner, Joyce, and Hemingway. He attended Fordham University and worked in advertising for several years before seriously pursuing a writing career.

When De Lillo's first novel, Americana, was published in 1971, it received modest reviews. Seven books followed over the next 14 years, steadily generating more critical praise but few sales. Then, in 1985, he hit pay dirt with White Noise, a brooding postmodern masterpiece about a Midwestern college professor and his family in the aftermath of an airborne toxic accident. It proved to be De Lillo's breakthrough, earning him both a National Book Award and an avid cult following.

Since then, De Lillo has gone on to produce a string of superb "literary" novels that fairly brim with big ideas yet also capture the essence of contemporary culture in all its infuriating banality. Cited by younger writers like Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace as a major influence, De Lillo remains a reserved and private, albeit gracious and genteel man who seems a bit uncomfortable with fame.

Among the many honors De Lillo has received are the Irish Times/Aer Lingus International Fiction Prize for Libra (1989); the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for Mao II (1991); and the Jerusalem Prize, William Dean Howells Medal, and the Riccardo Bacchelli International Award for his magnum opus Underworld (1997). In addition, three of his novels received high marks on a 2006 survey sponsored by The New York Times to name the single best work of American fiction of the last 25 years.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Cleo Birdwell
    2. Hometown:
      Westchester County, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 20, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York City
    1. Education:
      Fordham University, 1958

Read an Excerpt

From Part 5, Better Things For Better Living Through Chemistry: Selected Fragments Public and Private in the 1950s and 1960s, Chapter 3, January 11, 1955

We were about thirty miles below the Canadian border in a rambling encampment that was mostly barracks and other frame structures, a harking back, maybe, to the missionary roots of the order — except the natives, in this case, were us. Poor city kids who showed promise; some frail-bodied types with photographic memories and a certain uncleanness about them; those who were bright but unstable; those who could not adjust; the ones whose adjustment was ordained by the state; a cluster of Latins from some Jesuit center in Venezuela, smart young men with a cosmopolitan style, freezing their weenies off; and a few farmboys from not so far away, shyer than borrowed suits.

"Sometimes I think the education we dispense is better suited to a fifty-year-old who feels he missed the point the first time around. Too many abstract ideas. Eternal verities left and right. You'd be better served looking at your shoe and naming the parts. You in particular, Shay, coming from the place you come from."

This seemed to animate him. He leaned across the desk and gazed, is the word, at my wet boots.

"Those are ugly things, aren't they?"

"Yes they are."

"Name the parts. Go ahead. We're not so chi chi here, we're not so intellectually chic that we can't test a student face-to-face."

"Name the parts," I said. "All right. Laces."

"Laces. One to each shoe. Proceed."

I lifted one foot and turned it awkwardly.

"Sole and heel."

"Yes, go on."

I set my foot back down and stared at the boot, which seemed about as blank as a closed brown box.

"Proceed, boy."

"There's not much to name, is there? A front and a top."

"A front and a top. You make me want to weep."

"The rounded part at the front."

"You're so eloquent I may have to pause to regain my composure. You've named the lace. What's the flap under the lace?"

"The tongue."

"Well?"

"I knew the name. I just didn't see the thing."

He made a show of draping himself across the desk, writhing slightly as if in the midst of some dire distress.

"You didn't see the thing because you don't know how to look. And you don't know how to look because you don't know the names."

He tilted his chin in high rebuke, mostly theatrical, and withdrew his body from the surface of the desk, dropping his bottom into the swivel chair and looking at me again and then doing a decisive quarter turn and raising his right leg sufficiently so that the foot, the shoe, was posted upright at the edge of the desk.

A plain black everyday clerical shoe.

"Okay," he said. "We know about the sole and heel."

"Yes."

"And we've identified the tongue and lace."

"Yes," I said.

With his finger he traced a strip of leather that went across the top edge of the shoe and dipped down under the lace.

"What is it?" I said.

"You tell me. What is it?"

"I don't know."

"It's the cuff."

"The cuff."

"The cuff. And this stiff section over the heel. That's the counter."

"That's the counter."

"And this piece amidships between the cuff and the strip above the sole. That's the quarter."

"The quarter," I said.

"And the strip above the sole. That's the welt. Say it, boy."

"The welt."

"How everyday things lie hidden. Because we don't know what they're called. What's the frontal area that covers the instep?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know. It's called the vamp."

"The vamp."

"Say it."

"The vamp. The frontal area that covers the instep. I thought I wasn't supposed to memorize."

"Don't memorize ideas. And don't take us too seriously when we turn up our noses at rote learning. Rote helps build the man. You stick the lace through the what?"

"This I should know."

"Of course you know. The perforations at either side of, and above, the tongue."

"I can't think of the word. Eyelet."

"Maybe I'll let you live after all."

"The eyelets."

"Yes. And the metal sheath at each end of the lace."

He flicked the thing with his middle finger.

"This I don't know in a million years."

"The aglet."

"Not in a million years."

"The tag or aglet."

"And the little metal ring that reinforces the rim of the eyelet through which the aglet passes. We're doing the physics of language, Shay."

"The little ring."

"You see it?"

"Yes."

"This is the grommet," he said.

"Oh man."

"The grommet. Learn it, know it and love it."

"I'm going out of my mind."

"This is the final arcane knowledge. And when I take my shoe to the shoemaker and he places it on a form to make repairs — a block shaped like a foot. This is called a what?"

"I don't know."

"A last."

"My head is breaking apart."

"Everyday things represent the most overlooked knowledge. These names are vital to your progress. Quotidian things. If they weren't important, we wouldn't use such a gorgeous Latinate word. Say it," he said.

"Quotidian."

"An extraordinary word that suggests the depth and reach of the commonplace."

His white collar hung loose below his adam's apple and the skin at his throat was going slack and ropy and it seemed to be catching him unprepared, old age, coming late but fast.

I put on my jacket.

"I meant to bring along a book for you," he said.

Copyright © 1997 by Don DeLillo

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Introduction

Reading Group Discussion Points
  1. "Underworld" can refer to many different facets of this book, such as the labyrinthine subways that wind beneath New York City, or the underground art scenes frequented by Klara and her friends. But it also alludes to the "underworld" that lives within each of us, the fusing of our memories, emotions, and personal histories that make us who we are. Do you agree with the prison psychiatrist who tells young Nick Shay that "we all have a history we are responsible to?" Discuss other "underworld" themes in the book.
  2. As Underworld's cover photo represents, there are many "twin forces" explored in this book. Identify these themes of duality and discuss how they're rendered by DeLillo.
  3. Few books boast a more brilliantly conceived Prologue than Underworld. Discuss your opinions of it: its construction, its language, its use of real-life in a tale of fiction. Why is the Prologue titled "The Triumph of Death?" How does its gritty, "you're-in-the-ballpark" tone compare to the tone of the first chapter? Do you think the Prologue could stand alone as a short story?
  4. One of the most striking aspects of Underworld's narrative is its sprawling, nonlinear structure. By the end of the novel, we have gone full-circle; we start at the baseball game in 1951, fast-forward to the 1990s, and then work our way back to 1951 again. Why do you think DeLillo chose to structure his book this way? Is he saying that while we mark time in a linear fashion, time itself-and our memories-are not linear at all? What does this say about the interconnectedness of the present and the past?In what other ways does this story and its writing come full-circle?
  5. Klara Sax says "many things are anchored to the balance of power...."(76) Do you agree that, without the Cold War, this balance is gone? Is there chaos because we don't have an element of danger hanging over our heads? Is life better or safer now that the Cold War is over? Or do we simply have new enemies?
  6. Bobby Thomson's game-winning ball serves as the string that links Underworld's numerous characters, subplots, and themes. Is the ball a symbol of achievement or failure? Or, does that assessment depend simply upon who is holding it? Who do you think should have ended up owning the ball? To whom did it mean the most, and why?
  7. When Cotter realizes that he will go home with the game-winning baseball, he feels like an important part of history. But does he truly realize the significance of the game he just witnessed? How often are we actually aware that we are witnessing history-in-the-making? What is it about a moment in time, or an event, that makes it obvious that it will go down in history?
  8. Do you agree with Marvin Lundy when he states that "reality doesn't happen until you analyze the dots?" (182) What is more reliable: our own personal perception of an event as it happens, or our memories of it years later, after we have had time to think about it, process it, and be influenced by other's opinions and recollections?
  9. How have video cameras changed our lives? Do mundane moments become elevated simply because they are caught on tape? Does the repeated viewing of an event (such as the Rodney King beating) make it more horrifying than it would be if only imagined? Or does seeing it over and over in some way make it less terrible? Discuss how the public surfacing of the Zapruder film in the 1970s changed the way Americans considered the Kennedy assassination. How does this compare with other historical moments (such as the Giants/Dodgers game of 1951) that were not filmed? Which is more powerful, and why?
  10. Our country's largest man-made monument is the Fresh Kills garbage dump on Staten Island. Explore the irony that we, as a nation, have so much garbage that we have specialists like Nick Shay devoted to studying it. Why did Nick choose to enter such an unappealing field? At one point, he says that his choice of careers came at a point in his life when he was looking for a "faith to embrace." (282) Is his , "faith" 20th century American over-consumption?
  11. Discuss Lenny Bruce's philosophies about life and our government, as expressed in his comedy routines. How did his routines change as the Cuban Missile Crisis ran its course? Do you think he was an alarmist, or was he playing up his fears to be funny? Do you think his rants accurately reflect the nation's feelings? How did his different audiences react to his performances?
  12. Discuss the notion of art versus garbage, as explored in Underworld. How fine is the line between the two? if Klara turns everyday junk into art, can it be argued that the two are one and the same? Are painted planes in the middle of a desert really art? Is the Earth's landscape an appropriate background for art? Or is it perhaps more appropriate than any other? What do you think of the "garbologists" who collect Hoover's trash? Does putting it on display make it art?
  13. In regard to Truman Capote's infamous Black and White Ball, DeLillo writes that "the factoidal data generated by the guests would surely bridge the narrowing gap between journalism and fiction." The blending of fact and fiction is a main element of Underworld, and it's precisely what Capote did with In Cold Blood, the first book to present true crime in a novel form. Do you think there should be a thicker line between fact and fiction? Under what circumstances do they become one and the same?
  14. Discuss the unique way DeLillo writes dialogue. How do you feel about the way his characters often talk "over" each other? Is this a realistic rendering of the way we communicate? What do you think of the way his characters often let topics of conversation drop off, only to suddenly pick up where they left off at a later time? Does their ability to do this attest to the strong connections they have with one another?
  15. In one memorable scene in the book, Marian recounts how she abandoned the trouble-making family dog, and then told her children that he ran away. Later, as she drove the children around "looking" for the dog, she almost came to believe the story she'd made up. Have you ever convinced yourself that a lie you told is true simply because you told it so many times? How often do You think this kind of "revisionist history" occurs in our daily lives? Within our government? Discuss other "secret manipulations of history" (495) explored in Underworld.
  16. DeLillo is a highly expressive writer, penning characterizations that stick in the reader's mind. For example, he describes Jack Marshall as a man "on the perennial edge of dropping dead. You know these guys. They smoke and drink heavily and never sleep and have bad tickers and cough up storms of phlegm and the thrill of knowing them is guessing when they'll pitch into their soup." (391) Pick one of your favorite characterizations and discuss.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Discussion Points
  1. "Underworld" can refer to many different facets of this book, such as the labyrinthine subways that wind beneath New York City, or the underground art scenes frequented by Klara and her friends. But it also alludes to the "underworld" that lives within each of us, the fusing of our memories, emotions, and personal histories that make us who we are. Do you agree with the prison psychiatrist who tells young Nick Shay that "we all have a history we are responsible to?" Discuss other "underworld" themes in the book.
  2. As Underworld's cover photo represents, there are many "twin forces" explored in this book. Identify these themes of duality and discuss how they're rendered by DeLillo.
  3. Few books boast a more brilliantly conceived Prologue than Underworld. Discuss your opinions of it: its construction, its language, its use of real-life in a tale of fiction. Why is the Prologue titled "The Triumph of Death?" How does its gritty, "you're-in-the-ballpark" tone compare to the tone of the first chapter? Do you think the Prologue could stand alone as a short story?
  4. One of the most striking aspects of Underworld's narrative is its sprawling, nonlinear structure. By the end of the novel, we have gone full-circle; we start at the baseball game in 1951, fast-forward to the 1990s, and then work our way back to 1951 again. Why do you think DeLillo chose to structure his book this way? Is he saying that while we mark time in a linear fashion, time itself-and our memories-are not linear at all? What does this say about the interconnectedness of the present and the past? In what other ways does this story and its writing come full-circle?
  5. Klara Sax says "many things are anchored to the balance of power...."(76) Do you agree that, without the Cold War, this balance is gone? Is there chaos because we don't have an element of danger hanging over our heads? Is life better or safer now that the Cold War is over? Or do we simply have new enemies?
  6. Bobby Thomson's game-winning ball serves as the string that links Underworld's numerous characters, subplots, and themes. Is the ball a symbol of achievement or failure? Or, does that assessment depend simply upon who is holding it? Who do you think should have ended up owning the ball? To whom did it mean the most, and why?
  7. When Cotter realizes that he will go home with the game-winning baseball, he feels like an important part of history. But does he truly realize the significance of the game he just witnessed? How often are we actually aware that we are witnessing history-in-the-making? What is it about a moment in time, or an event, that makes it obvious that it will go down in history?
  8. Do you agree with Marvin Lundy when he states that "reality doesn't happen until you analyze the dots?" (182) What is more reliable: our own personal perception of an event as it happens, or our memories of it years later, after we have had time to think about it, process it, and be influenced by other's opinions and recollections?
  9. How have video cameras changed our lives? Do mundane moments become elevated simply because they are caught on tape? Does the repeated viewing of an event (such as the Rodney King beating) make it more horrifying than it would be if only imagined? Or does seeing it over and over in some way make it less terrible? Discuss how the public surfacing of the Zapruder film in the 1970s changed the way Americans considered the Kennedy assassination. How does this compare with other historical moments (such as the Giants/Dodgers game of 1951) that were not filmed? Which is more powerful, and why?
  10. Our country's largest man-made monument is the Fresh Kills garbage dump on Staten Island. Explore the irony that we, as a nation, have so much garbage that we have specialists like Nick Shay devoted to studying it. Why did Nick choose to enter such an unappealing field? At one point, he says that his choice of careers came at a point in his life when he was looking for a "faith to embrace." (282) Is his , "faith" 20th century American over-consumption?
  11. Discuss Lenny Bruce's philosophies about life and our government, as expressed in his comedy routines. How did his routines change as the Cuban Missile Crisis ran its course? Do you think he was an alarmist, or was he playing up his fears to be funny? Do you think his rants accurately reflect the nation's feelings? How did his different audiences react to his performances?
  12. Discuss the notion of art versus garbage, as explored in Underworld. How fine is the line between the two? if Klara turns everyday junk into art, can it be argued that the two are one and the same? Are painted planes in the middle of a desert really art? Is the Earth's landscape an appropriate background for art? Or is it perhaps more appropriate than any other? What do you think of the "garbologists" who collect Hoover's trash? Does putting it on display make it art?
  13. In regard to Truman Capote's infamous Black and White Ball, DeLillo writes that "the factoidal data generated by the guests would surely bridge the narrowing gap between journalism and fiction." The blending of fact and fiction is a main element of Underworld, and it's precisely what Capote did with In Cold Blood, the first book to present true crime in a novel form. Do you think there should be a thicker line between fact and fiction? Under what circumstances do they become one and the same?
  14. Discuss the unique way DeLillo writes dialogue. How do you feel about the way his characters often talk "over" each other? Is this a realistic rendering of the way we communicate? What do you think of the way his characters often let topics of conversation drop off, only to suddenly pick up where they left off at a later time? Does their ability to do this attest to the strong connections they have with one another?
  15. In one memorable scene in the book, Marian recounts how she abandoned the trouble-making family dog, and then told her children that he ran away. Later, as she drove the children around "looking" for the dog, she almost came to believe the story she'd made up. Have you ever convinced yourself that a lie you told is true simply because you told it so many times? How often do You think this kind of "revisionist history" occurs in our daily lives? Within our government? Discuss other "secret manipulations of history" (495) explored in Underworld.
  16. DeLillo is a highly expressive writer, penning characterizations that stick in the reader's mind. For example, he describes Jack Marshall as a man "on the perennial edge of dropping dead. You know these guys. They smoke and drink heavily and never sleep and have bad tickers and cough up storms of phlegm and the thrill of knowing them is guessing when they'll pitch into their soup." (391) Pick one of your favorite characterizations and discuss.
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 53 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 26, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Post-Modern "Masterpiece" Left Me Cold

    I read 150 pages of the 827-page book, and skimmed much of the rest, and only read that much of it because the novel was on a list of literary fiction I'd been working through. I knew it was difficult 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" as promised in the blurbs, I found the novel a badly written one from the first pages: endless run-on sentences-of-doom, forced and clunky metaphors, random bits forced into sentences where they don't belong. I'm aware, that like the doorstop length, these are all techniques that plenty of critics would find evidence of profundity, but they left me cold.

    The book jumps from omniscience with touches of second person in the Prologue to first person in Part One, and much of the rest looking though the novel is third person. 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 six parts until you hit the epilogue set in the near future. Nothing about this book is straightforward--not the prose, point-of-view, narrative, characters or the very thin plot.

    Even many reviewers who found the book a mess thought the prologue a work of genius, so if you're not enchanted by it--and I wasn't--I doubt the book will hold you. 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 and is about a legendary game between the Giants and Dodgers in 1951--through it we follow not just a turnstile jumper but characters like J Edgar Hoover and Jackie Gleason--who is described vividly and repellently as throwing up on Frank Sinatra. That turnstile jumper who skipped out of school finds a seat and is befriended by a man who buys him a soda. At the end of the game he'll twist this man's fingers to pry the home-run baseball out of his hands. So, if baseball is America, then the message is America is grasping, greedy, thieving, and repellent.

    The bulk of the book then deals with the man who ultimately bought that baseball--Nick Shay--who is in waste management. The first person narrative of Part One is more accessible than the Prologue, but still at times disjointed in the modernist way, and we're headed to another extended metaphor: American culture as trash.

    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 the kind who loves a disjointed narrative with overwrought, pretentious prose that revels in showing us the tawdriness of American life, by all means, go pick up a copy.

    6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2003

    what story?

    When I read a book, I'm more interested in the story than superfluous language. If you're into erratic shifts of time and place, as well as hard to read dialogue and mundane observations that serve no purpose in furthering the story, then Underworld is the book for you. There's a reason why authors like Stephen King, James Patterson, and JK Rowling sell so many books--THEY TELL STORIES PEOPLE FIND INTERESTING. They may not win the literary awards books like Underworld win, but they're a hell of a lot more fun to read. When I pick up a book, I don't want to work. I'd rather stare out the bus window than read Underworld.

    2 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2000

    masterful

    Delilo writes about American culture with incisive clarity and wit. Some people get it, and some people, like the negative reviewers on this page, don't. There's something to be found in every sentence.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2007

    Best Book I've Read Recently

    If one were to pick their recipe for a 'perfect book', 'Underworld' would not meet many readers' criteria. The ending is somewhat disconnected and disappointing. This is not a book that you will sit up all night to finish, nor is it a book you can walk away from for a week or two due to its complexity. However the vast tapestry woven from the opening chapter of the 'Shot Heard Around the World' and the detailed and real character development are arresting. The contrasts between postwar neighborhood centered New York City life and today's disposable society are telling and the New York portraits-past and present- are wonderfully evocative. I generally like a fast read, as long as it is well written, but this book remains in my memory.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2003

    This book is more about just one story...

    Underworld is one of those books that does not seem to inter-connected, this seemingly detachment from character to character drives home the colossal picture that Delillo is trying to make. It will not be enjoyed if seen otherwise.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2001

    Not for the easily distracted

    This book is a masterpiece, but like many good things, it may be best to start with some earlier (and probably easier to follow) books by the author. Libra (a novel about Oswald's and the mafia's role in the assasination of JFK), White Noise, and even End Zone are all probably good places to start. That said, Underworld is awesome in its scope (fifty years, many subplots, Delillo's incredible command of dialogue), and highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2014

    Dash

    Walks in her eyes dark hands in chains crying for Carter

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2014

    Hood

    There are side affects

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2014

    Hood

    Do you resent me

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2014

    Sun

    Now. You have the strength of 10 men..and hope. It helps.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2014

    Josh

    NOOOOOO

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  • Posted January 31, 2014

    Lisa-RR-H hit the nail right on the head with her review. I was

    Lisa-RR-H hit the nail right on the head with her review. I was bored to tears with this book. It is hard for me to comprehend why it appears on lists of "must reads". I've a new policy- if a book does not grab me, I feel no obligation to finish it, so I read maybe a third of this and gave it to the library.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2014

    Elise

    My dad HATES ME

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2014

    Sunkit

    Nudged Oakkit out, and padded home

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2014

    Oakkit

    "He said he hated me!"

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2014

    Bloodyclaw

    Paws in and looks at everyone.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2014

    Smokefur to Kinkon

    Go to Cave result 1!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2014

    Kinkon

    Nah im good its fun here his voice echos

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2014

    Scarletfeather

    'Cave'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2014

    Leaf

    No..

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 53 Customer Reviews

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