Group Read, March 2018: Underworld

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Group Read, March 2018: Underworld

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Mar 1, 2018, 1:47 pm

Our March group read is Don DeLillo’s Underworld. Please join the read and post any comments here.

Mar 2, 2018, 8:59 am

Got my copy (in German) from the library a week ago and managed to quickly read the 70 pages prologue last Sunday. I don't understand baseball, but found it very readable and liked the writing even in translation. Given that my copy is a hardback and has 970 pages, it will however take me most of the month or longer to get through it.

Mar 2, 2018, 12:25 pm

There is something about DeLillo's writing that suits me perfectly. I managed to read this book in about three weeks -- while in the middle of packing/moving across town. I loved the opening section with the baseball game and the inclusion of real people. I found myself questioning, for the rest of the book, how much was based on actual events and people, but didn't want to interrupt the flow to research.

Mar 2, 2018, 6:29 pm

I started this one early because I thought it would take me more than a month to read! It's pretty fast going, just very long and also very disjointed.

At first I thought the main themes were going to be baseball and art, and I was so excited! Loved the description of Klara's art project. But since then I've decided that the main themes are garbage, and fathers. The baseball is still around. And I've caught one more glancing reference to the Pieter Bruegel painting from the opening scene. But basically, at p. 300, garbage & fathers.

Mar 6, 2018, 10:10 am

Is anybody else reading this? I'm past the halfway mark and while it's enjoyable I'm also ready to be done with it. This is just too much text to handle without a plot, or with an anti-plot. Also, the description of a supposed lost Eisenstein film called Unterwelt, screened at Radio City Music Hall, was just impossible to deal with.

I feel as if De Lillo sometimes sets himself these unnecessary challenges (like, also, the entire book) just to show that he can do it. And he isn't always right.

Mar 6, 2018, 11:22 am

I plan to start soon but have a few others to finish first.

Mar 8, 2018, 4:20 am

oh my... you guys decided to read this in a month?! Well, good luck!

I couldn't stand it!

"it’s as if the guy typed out 800+ pages of a story and, as he was heading for the stapler, tripped and scattered it all over his living room before finally binding it up"

from my review back in 2008:

Mar 8, 2018, 12:51 pm

I asked one of my students, who works on mid-late 20th-century American art, whether people in her field read Don DeLillo. She said that yes, he is a touchstone for some people. But she also looked at me as if I were slightly insane. I probably should have pressed her further on this.

I'm past the 500-page mark now and am finally coming to kind of appreciate the backward movement of time. It has moments of actually working for me. Moments.

Mar 8, 2018, 1:46 pm

I quite liked it even if I didn't always follow it when I read this back in 2012. My review (spoiler free I think):

A massive book both in terms of pages (830) and in terms of what it seems to seek to achieve - a meditation on the last half of the twentieth century in America. The events are seen through the eyes of Nick Shay, his family and associates, various historical characters (J Edgar Hoover, Lenny Bruce), and a baseball! There is a recurring theme about nuclear weapons and toxic waste but much of it is fairly random. The writing is skilful, but the narrative leaps around. Felt a bit like watching one of those French New Wave movies - parts are mesmerizing, parts are puzzling, you admire the art but at the end you wonder what it was all about. 3.5/5

Mar 11, 2018, 5:51 am

I picked up the book this morning, so I have only read half the introduction. The writing is skillful and so far I enjoy the mixture of famous and unknown characters. Looking forward to what comes next.

Mar 19, 2018, 9:00 am

I made it to p 700, 270 to go. I like it, but I feel I've read too many of those "great American novels" to love it. It doesn't feel new or fresh to me. It's not the book's fault I started it after 2 Franzens, after Infinite Jest, some listed Roths and the last very long not-yet-listed Auster. They're all different and yet similar with those mostly male identity-searching characters, and this one here plays a bit too obviously with the time jumps and character-to-character jumps, like it is telling me all the time "see what else I can do?".
Don't get me wrong - I like it, it's also far less demanding than I feared. If I had more time I might find it an easy and quick read for its length. Whenever I find the time to sit down with my heavy hardback, 100 pages feel like nothing.

>8 annamorphic: the backward movement felt a bit cheap for me in the first half as well.

Mar 28, 2018, 5:12 am

I finally finished the book after some intense reading over the last few days. Really digging in elevated the book for me, because the many characters and themes got confusing when read over a prolonged periode of time.

Overall it was a good novel but like >11 Deern: I too noticed how desperately it tries to be the Great American Novel of Its Generation, and - in some places - it is very obviously trying to be literary. To me the main shortcoming was that I couldn't relate to the main characters and especially Nick Shay and Klara Sachs. They just never stopped being characters in a book - which they are of course, but you shouldn't think of them as such all the time.