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UNDERWORLD by Don DeLillo Kirkus Star


by Don DeLillo

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-84269-6
Publisher: Scribner

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.