The Pequod Review:
White Noise, Don DeLillo's ninth novel, is set in a small college town and centers on a professor (Jack Gladney) with a chaotic personal life and a deep fear of death. His fear becomes more acute when a chemical spill (an “airborne toxic event”) leads to the evacuation of his hometown. The book has a dark and unsettled atmosphere, as it explores not just death but an American culture that doesn't really provide guidance for how to cope with death. At the same time, it is a blackly comic satire on consumerism and academic culture. And DeLillo's observational prose has never been better; here for example he describes back-to-school day on a college campus:
I’ve witnessed this spectacle every September for twenty-one years. It is a brilliant event, invariably. The students greet each other with comic cries and gestures of sodden collapse. Their summer has been bloated with criminal pleasures, as always. The parents stand sun-dazed near their automobiles, seeing images of themselves in every direction. The conscientious suntans. The well-made faces and wry looks. They feel a sense of renewal, of communal recognition. The women crisp and alert, in diet trim, knowing people’s names. Their husbands content to measure out the time, distant but ungrudging, accomplished in parenthood, something about them suggesting massive insurance coverage. This assembly of station wagons, as much as anything they might do in the course of the year, more than formal liturgies or laws, tells the parents they are a collection of the like-minded and the spiritually akin, a people, a nation.
This is one of Don DeLillo's best and most accessible novels.