I just finished reading Underworld by Don Delillo.
This was no small task; four years I’ve been reading this thing. I must have read twenty easier, shorter books while trying to finish this one. Me and this book have outlasted me and any relationship I've ever had. So it's kind of a bummer to break up with it, but alas...
Underworld is the third “epic” novel I’ve read. The first was The Stand, by Steven King. I was sixteen, and inspired to read it by the liner notes in Among The Living by Anthrax, which said the title track was inspired by the novel. Yes, I was that fucking metal; I read the books the bands wanted me to. While my tastes run more arty farty these days, I still have a soft spot for Steven King (and Anthrax) for introducing me to reading for pleasure's sake. Anyways, I really, really liked The Stand.
The second epic novel I read was Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. It quickly became, and remains, my favorite book. It’s a very difficult read (there are reader companions available), but the payoff is enormous. I can’t wait until the day I get to read it again.
Which brings me to Underworld. Don Delillo is one of my favorite authors, so based on my track record (two for two) I was looking forward to diving into an epic by him. The book is sort of an alternate post-WWII history of America, framed by the journey of the “shot heard round the world”; that is, the home run ball Bobby Thompson hit in the 1951 National League Championship.
It channels Lenny Bruce, J Edgar Hoover, beatniks, and a host of other characters and is absolutely beautifully written. Yet, it never really pulled me in. If I focused hard, each sentence was a thing of beauty. Sentences like this are on every page:
The only thing he sees is a dog of the slinking type, been kicked so often it decides it's being petted.
Yet, I found myself having to read whole pages over again because my mind would wander. It was like listening to Rush: technically amazing, but boring and lacking heart. I felt this way a quarter into the book, but felt an obligation to finish, which explains why I kept reading other books all the while. So, now I'm done with it, and I'm kinda jaded on Don Dellilo. I think I'm going to have to re-read White Noise to remind me of what he can do when he's on. But for now, I have the bitterness of a bad break-up.