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By Ruth Ann Orlansky on 01-07-12
CYBEX burned into my eyes
The word "CYBEX" burned into my eyes while listening to this book on the treadmill at my local "Y" because I had to intensely concentrate so that I did not miss a single sentence. This is not your usual novel - it does not have a conventional beginning, middle or end. The book starts off describing the playoff game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1951 National League pennant in which Bobby Thomson hit a three-run home run known as "the shot heard round the world". This section is priceless - the best part of the book, in my opinion. I felt like I was in the thick of the game with the various spectators, famous and not. Even though I knew the outcome of the game before listening to the narration, I was in complete suspense.
After this long section, the rest of the book skips through time, examining portions of the lives of people who were peripherally affected by this event. The next section of the book is a long first-person narrative from the point of view of Nick, a sanitation engineer, who owns the Bobby Thomson home run ball and is in the Arizona desert sometime in the late 1980's or early 1990's viewing an art installation by a woman who it seems he had some sort of involvement with years before (you will find out later - no spoiler alerts here!). We meet J. Edgar Hoover, Lenny Bruce and various other people, both fictional and "non".
And so it goes. The novel jumps back and forth, from the mid 1980's to the early 1990's, then to the summer of 1974, then to the 1960's and back to the period of time immediately before and after the historic 1951 baseball game. Not only do we view the lives of various people during these periods of time, but we also get a cultural snapshots of what was going on during these times. Some of the characters appear and reappear during these times. It is up to you, the listener, to put these narratives together.
Some listeners may be very disconcerted by this jumping around, and may not like putting various pieces of information together, but I found it fascinating. If, however, you want a conventional story, you only need to listen to the first part of the book describing the playoff game. It stands alone, and there is no need to listen to the rest of the book unless you want to.
I found Richard Poe to be a superb narrator - he took paced the narration very well, taking his time with the exquisite phrasing, and gave good voice to all the characters.
I only gave the novel 4 stars because I felt that DeLillo introduced too may "characters" that did not have much to do with the story. I also felt that he left a few loose ends. For instance, the home run ball was eventually caught by a black boy who snuck into the game. I was wondering what ever happened to him, but never found out. There were a few other instance of this.
In short, if you decide to listen to this book, you are in for a unique, fascinating, but possibly frustrating experience.
20 of 20 people found this review helpful
By L. J. on 08-06-13
Masterful performance of a masterpiece
Underworld is a great book, a sprawling nonlinear narrative encompassing the great themes of the second half of the 20th century in America portrayed in the intimate lives of many characters. I read it when it first came out, and recently decided to listen to it on a long road trip. This performance is mesmerizing, Richard Poe always sounds as though he's speaking the words, not reading them, with variations appropriate to the many different characters. The audio quality on this recording is top notch as well, all around a very well done audiobook, highly recommended!
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
By Robert Mule on 18-04-12
Which scene was your favorite?
The book opens with a lengthy description of the "Shot Heard Round the World," Bobby Thompson's home run that gave the New York Giants the 1951 American League Pennant. This may be some of the best writing in American literature. Seriously.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
By Emrys on 29-07-14
FIne book, but hard to follow as an audiobook
The book contains some great writing, and the narrator is excellent. However, I wished I'd chosen to read rather than listen to this book. The large cast of characters, the non-linear narrative, the subtleties of the connections between different episodes, etc. made it difficult to keep track of everything. I still enjoyed many parts--the first chapter is wonderful--but I struggled to keep the whole thing clear in my head.
10 of 11 people found this review helpful
By Allie on 28-08-12
A postmodern classic
DeLillo is a master of weaving intricate motifs, themes, and conflicts, across time, space, and individual lives. The breadth of knowledge--historical, cultural, sociological, political, and psychological--DeLillo displays in this novel is truly brilliant. Although the connections are often a bit overdone (e.g., the nuanced manifestations of the "underworld"), this is somewhat characteristic of DeLillo's style and postmodern fiction.
This is a masterfully planned and executed postmodern classic.
Richard Poe's narration is fantastic, as always. He is such a talented artist.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
By Jefferson on 22-02-16
"How rare it was to see what it was before you"
Don DeLillo's Underworld (1997) is a large sprawling novel tightly focused around a set of intertwining themes about waste, weapons, memory, language, perception, relationships, life, and death. It's set mostly during and after the Cold War in America, especially NYC. The tone, style, and concerns of the novel are established by the Prologue, a tour de force account of the deciding game of the 1951 pennant playoff between the NY Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, won by the Giants on the legendary sayonara homerun hit by Bobby Thomson off Ralph Branca, immediately being named "the shot heard round the world" while occurring at about the same time as a Soviet atomic bomb test. DeLillo writes the points of view of various people, e.g., Cotter Martin, the young black teen who flamboyantly sneaks into the game; Russ Hodges, the Giants announcer who enters baseball lore in calling the homerun; J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director who is attending the game with Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleason; and Nick Shay, teen Dodgers fan who is devastated after listening to the game on his radio on the roof of his Bronx apartment building.
The novel itself opens in 1992 with 57-year old Nick driving through the desert to see Klara Sax, a famous 72-year old cast off object artist working on an epic project involving 230 retired Cold War B-52s. Forty years ago, it develops, Nick had a brief affair with Klara when she was married to his science teacher who was also his little brother's chess mentor. Now Nick works for a big waste management firm headquartered in a bronze tower in Phoenix and often feels unreal.
Although Nick is the protagonist of the novel (his is the only first person narration), DeLillo inhabits an impressive variety of characters at different stages in their lives, among them Nick's wife Marian (trying to make a self while married to a "demon husband"), his mother Rosemary (supporting her sons by herself), his brother Matt (deciding to quit doing bomb risk analysis work), Manx Martin (comically attempting to sell the Thomson homerun baseball), Marvin Lundy (epically searching for it), Klara Sax (enjoying life in NYC as an artist), her first husband Albert Bronzini (walking musing and schmoozing about the Bronx), J. Edgar Hoover and his aide/companion Clyde "Junior" Tolson (safeguarding the nation against "insurgents" of every stripe), Sister Edgar (doing good works with extreme cleanliness), stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce (riffing on the Cuban Missile Crisis), advertising account exec Charles Wainright (firing people and dispensing wisdom like "whoever controls your eyeballs runs the world"), his failure son Chuckie (on another bombing mission over Vietnam). The many point of view characters reveal how different people perceive and construct the world, life, and meaning: young and old, male and female, white and black, anointed and powerless, heroes and goats, believers and faithless, educated and ignorant, artists and scientists, marketers and consumers, entertainers and audiences, parents and children, siblings and friends, spouses and adulterers, geniuses and fools. . . Humanity in all its permutations.
Each short story-like chapter interweaves vignettes from the 1950s, 80s, 70s, 60s, 50s, and 90s. Even as DeLillo captures Cold War and post-Cold War American culture in appalling and hilarious detail, he universalizes his novel by linking 20th-century USA and Bruegel's The Triumph of Death. That's why he writes so many scenes at shows, parties, baseball games, demonstrations, etc. until even "private" scenes between lovers seem to occur in a crowd. But although the novel references Bruegel's painting and Pluto's Hades and sets Lenny Bruce to crying, "We're all gonna die!" and deals with war, Plutonium, murder, disease, aging, dying, and so on, it also shows how people create, educate, learn, love, see, remember, joke, communicate, know, and believe in that context. And it ends with a paean to peace.
The book is fresh and vivid in its depiction of the world, apt for a novel about looking carefully and bravely. For DeLillo, that kind of seeing is dependent on language: "You didn't see the thing because you don't know how to look and you don't how to look because you don't know the names." Thus Nick seeks the exact names of things, and DeLillo wields language precisely and plays with etymologies.
One thing he wants us to see is "the best kept secret in the world," waste, the origin of civilization, "a religious thing," for "It is necessary to respect what we discard," lest "What we secrete comes back to consume us." Thus Nick and his colleagues believe that "We were the Church Fathers of waste in all its transmutations," while "crafting the future" from "every kind of used and lost and eroded object of desire."
Like waste, weapons "reflect the soul of the maker," and DeLillo is the bard of the bomb: "the spectacle of the unmattered atom, the condensation cloud, arranged split-secondly on the shock disk, sort of primly, place centered, and the visible shock approaching, and the Biblical wind that carries sagebrush, sand, hats, cats, car parts, condoms, and poisonous snakes, all blowing by in the desert dawn."
Yes, the language of Underworld is rich and lyrical and ranges from the numinous to the comedic:
--"He has been to one night game in his life, coming down from the bluff with his oldest brother and walking into a bowl of painted light. He thought there was an unknown energy flaring down out of the light towers, some intenser working of the earth, and it isolated the players and the grass and the chalk-rolled lines from anything he'd ever seen or imagined. They had the glow of first-time things."
--"She had a European accent slashed and burned by long term residency in New York, and her hair had the retouched gloss of a dead crow mounted on a stick."
I love DeLillo's use of -ed to make new adjectives (not unlike Klara making art from B-52s): mermaided, roman-collared, unsheveled, eyelinered, scatterhanded, spindle-shanked, Buddha-headed, etc.
The fine reader of the audiobook, Richard Poe, nails all the nuances and pauses and emphases and accents and clearly relishes reading DeLillo's wonderful prose.
If there is a flaw, it's that after a while the many different lyrical, philosophical, and witty people start sounding like DeLillo. Or that reading the constant rich language becomes like dining only on juicy steak and dark chocolate mousse for a week. But this book is so funny and life-affirming, and is so packed with vivid and original descriptions and metaphors, and has such an ironic and sympathetic eye for human folly and mortality, and hosts such a large and interesting cast of characters, that it seems churlish to pick at such things.
8 of 10 people found this review helpful