In UNDERWORLD, his eleventh novel, Don DeLillo
returns to many of the themes that have long preoccupied him: the elusiveness of time, the constitutive and often benumbing effect of mass media and consumerism on the individual psyche, the terrible beauty of a landscape (both geographical and cultural) forever altered by modern technology, and the transformative power of artistic creation.
The 827-page book opens with an extended recounting of the classic October 3, 1951 baseball game in which the Giants beat the Dodgers to capture the pennant. As J. Edgar Hoover watches on, he learns that the Soviet Union has successfully exploded a nuclear bomb -- a strange confluence of historical events that DeLillo has credited with providing the original inspiration for the book. Nearly 50 years later, Nick Shay, a "waste analyst" for a garbage disposal company and the owner, following a long and labyrinthine search, of the game-winning home run ball, meditates on his streetwise childhood in the Bronx, a long-ago affair with an older woman -- now an artist, at work in the middle of the desert painting discarded Cold War-era fighter jets -- and the "curious connection," as he puts it, between weaponry and waste. The sweep of history looms large in this magisterial tale: the book spans five decades and takes as its subject no smaller a topic than the American experience, as filtered through the zeitgeist of the Cold War and its immediate aftereffects. Previous