Many years ago, a friend of mine was a big fan of Thomas Pynchon, particularly enamoured with Gravity’s Rainbow. I tried to read it. All 700 some pages. It is an outrageously funny, complex and difficult read. I was within 80 pages of finishing. I’m a guy who rarely gives up on a book. I came to the conclusion that it would be impossible to resolve the insanely convoluted plot in the last 80 pages. I put it down and never picked it back up.
The trailer for Inherent Vice a film based on the Pynchon novel of the same name, sucked me in, with the same results. Becky and I watched it with another couple and at least one person was snoring by the time we packed it in. At one point we thought, “We’ve spent this much time on it, we might as well gut it out to the end.” But then we realized that there were still forty minutes left. We went to bed.
But I knew Pynchon was loved by many of my literate friends and I decided that owed it to myself to take another look. In the course of my research I ran across a list of the great contemporary writers which mentioned Pynchon, but also named Don Dilillo. The only thing I knew about him was that my mind always went to Don LeDildo when I saw his name. So when I found a copy of White Noise at the used bookstore, I thought I’d give it a whirl.
White Noise doesn’t feel like a novel to me. It’s more like a collection of short stories with the same characters. Or maybe Saturday Night Live skits. It’s got that post modern ironic flavor that makes you feel like you’re not smart enough to figure out how good it is. Like cod live oil, I kept taking it because I thought it was good for me. It helped that it had short chapters. Some passages were brilliant, one is a riff on misinformation that starts with a simple statement and each subsequent response evokes another misconception. But then I ran into a long chapter. And I found that I was totally uninterested in what was going to happen next. I couldn’t go on.
On that same trip to the used bookstore I picked up books by Elmore Leonard and Saul Bellow. I read the Leonard book first, which is like having dessert first. After I gave up on Delillo I started the Bellow. One page in, I already knew I was going to enjoy Humboldt’s Gift more than White Noise.