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Underworld by Don DeLillo

Readers Recommend

Posted 1.31.12

“Two thousand eleven was a year of seismic change—I held my breath and leapt into self-employment, got a house, got a dog, and set foot in three separate countries (not including New Orleans at Mardi Gras, which, believe me, should also count). It was hard to find a second to read, and when I did, I seemed to gravitate toward novels preoccupied with place and class: Money (Viking, 1985) by Martin Amis, Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970), Ship of Fools (Little, Brown, 1962) by Katherine Anne Porter. When I finally settled down toward the end of the year, I found myself craving something more expansive, a world to get lost in rather than observe. Don DeLillo’s Underworld (Scribner, 1997)—a novel about contemporary art and baseball and garbage and the Internet and J. Edgar Hoover—is quintessentially American in its interests and its democracy, a welcome respite from my months spent in the drawing rooms of fiction. What stands out is DeLillo’s elliptical, inscrutable dialogue. When pitted against the novel’s more lyrical ruminations, it is the dialogue that comes out on top, monosyllabic and human. Though Underworld is vast and covers large swathes of the twentieth century, no period feels dated or out of place. The dialogue acts as a polarizing force, bringing all of the characters into equal focus. That skill, combined with DeLillo’s spookily accurate predictions about the Internet (it was 1997, remember), had me running back and forth to my notebook, eager to jot down a stray quote or observation. My personal favorite? “Om does not rhyme with bomb. It only looks that way.”

—Sarah Almond from Durham, North Carolina

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