This may sound a little off the wall but while I am reading Underworld, I keep thinking about William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. The way in which both books jump around in time and the way they are set up seem similiar to me. Both of them have character who are struggling to define themselves and expalin the world around them. DeLillo seems like the Faulkner of the North. As I mentioned it seems really off the wall but I kept comparing them.
Delillo's narrative structure is the first thing that struck me upon my reading of Underworld. The text shifts between years even decades, location, and most importantly who is telling the story. This lineage often complicates and confuses the reader including myself. The shifts in the story line however are part of the act of remembering/recalling and moving on to communicate the details.
Any time one tells a story their mind is constantly wandering, associating connections between thoughts. More importantly DeLillo is attempting to tell the stories of many, not just one individual even though he promises the reader "everything is connected to something else". Futhermore things/events do not happen in any type of specific order in everyday life. Other things/events are always silmultaneously happening around us and we are always relating them to other experiences whether present or past. So that when we communicate, in Delillo's case events from the past, we often speak in a jumbled manner.
We break down our thoughts into sections and attempt to piece them together in the most effective way possible. This is however not always easy. For instance every time Nick sees a plane he immediately recalls his son in early childhood, who thought he possessed the ability to blow up planes with his mind. These events are unrelated but illustrate how a happening in the present triggers memories from the past. DeLillo and the story he is trying to tell will hopefully come together in the end, and the connections will become apparent.
Dan Wakefield's NY in the 1950's and Don DeLillo's Underworld are similar in that both texts look at the larger historical and cultural picture (time) through the lives of individuals.
Wakefield states at the onset of "NY in the 1950's" that he wanted to write this book because he and his friends all believed that the 1950's were "badly researched and badly reported". The picture that comes to mind and now represents this decade is inaccurate and false. Wakefield attempts to retell (recycle) the 50's by remembering and reporting on his own experiences and many others around him at the time. These personal accounts contain vital information but have been left out of textbooks because they are thought to be bias. Wakefield's book challenges the very notion of history. It contains the hidden history millions know little if anything about. The history of individuals, the history that lies inside each and everyone of us.
DeLillo also discusses the larger historical and cultural framework of a period through the lives of individuals. He however does not concentrate on a specific decade but shifts between years and decades frequently. Wakefield and DeLillo project the private life of individuals publicly. Both authors also utilize the stories/personal accounts of public figures. Wakefield with Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, LeRoi Jones, etc, and Delillo with J. Edgar Hoover, Lenny Bruce,etc.
This is a site I found while looking for information on the Texas Highway Killer. It contains valuable information on the book and its author. The website is broken down into sections of the book. Each section link not only gives brief information about the particular sections, but gives background to some of the events DeLillo mentions. The site also contains links to websites dealing with some of DeLillo's other novels.
This web cite includes both positive and negative critique's on DeLillo's Underworld. Each entry focuses on different aspects of the book.
The structure of DeLillo's narrative confused so many of our classmates. However, the similarities between the arrangement of DeLillo and Scorses Goodfellas are numerous. Scoreses comments that when creating the movie he knew there was no need to follow traditional narrative structure, You take the tradition of the American gangster film and deal with episode by episode, but start in the middle and move backwards and forwards...I discovered that scenes could be compacted, so that you have a wedding, then go directly to the results of the marriage - the mother arguing because they were living in her house. It was a constant accumulation of these details, and I realized that if the scenes were kept short, the impact after about an hour and a half would be terrific.
So too, does DeLillo understand this concept of joining short narratives together, interchanging time periods, and overlapping events. This structure allows the creator to force the reader to tie things together, to think, and to wander what will happen next in a non-traditional story line.
Do some of our classmates find Goodfellas easier to follow than Scorses because one is one is a movie and the other one is a book? As American Studies students - what does this say about America's society? Are we more visually accepting of change if it is shown to us rather than something we have to read? Or is mafia more exciting than baseball, bombs, and marrital problems?