Sunday, May 20, 2012

Just Finished: And Then There Was White Noise

Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None is the classic mystery novel, and it sat on my shelf for approximately 20 years before I read it. Rather than finish a 500 page book that was killing me with all its baseball talk, I decided to go pick up this slim and decaying volume on my shelf.

A quick read, And Then There Were None, which was previously titled Ten Little Indians, starts with a hodgepodge of characters making their way to an island off the coast of Devon. From an elderly military man who thinks he's meeting up with old colleagues to a young woman who believes she's been hired as a temporary secretary, each visitor to the island has a different and cryptic story of who invited them to the island.

Once they arrive, however, the "10 little Indians" who have been summoned realize that there is some strange about their supposed holiday. One by one they begin to die as their own dark histories come to light. The remaining guests try to figure out whodunnit while becoming increasingly suspicious of each other. Will anyone survive the l'isle mysterious?

Being such a brief read with that precise British-ness, And Then There Were None, doesn't ever get very gruesome, but it does raise some questions about right, wrong and the proper carrying out of justice. More interesting than entertaining.

White Noise...I'm not sure I'm smart enough to review this book. Don DeLillo is clearly more intelligent than I am, and he has social commentary/satire down.

The main character, Jack Gladney, is a thrice divorced college professor who gained credibility by establishing a Hitler studies program at the small private university where he works. Somewhat amusing is the fact that Jack can't even speak German well, something he's working on before his next big Hitler conference.

At home is Jack, his current wife Babbette (who he often talks to in the third person), and their son and collection of children from previous marriages are a peculiar postmodern group. One child loves burnt toast, another analyses her mother's gum chewing habits and so on.

Neurotic as they all are, Jack, his family and his colleagues all have a semi-symbiotic relationship, but trouble lies beneath the surface and an "airborne toxic event" raises fears about mortality, the meaning of life and other postmodern problems. As Babbette reveals fears about death, Jack tries to keep the family going in his own intellectual way.

As you can see, I'm butchering any attempt at explaining this book. In any case, this is probably the best of the three or four postmodern books I've ever read (and that is saying something). There were some really witty observations on American culture, but it was also thought provoking – particularly the fear of death and how one acts on that fear. Anyway, I'm sure there's a New York Times review somewhere.

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