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Underworld Cover

ISBN13: 9780684848150
ISBN10: 0684848155
Condition: Standard
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From Part 5, Better Things For Better Living Through Chemistry: Selected Fragments Public and Private in the 1950s and 1960s, Chapter 3, January 11, 1955

We were about thirty miles below the Canadian border in a rambling encampment that was mostly barracks and other frame structures, a harking back, maybe, to the missionary roots of the order — except the natives, in this case, were us. Poor city kids who showed promise; some frail-bodied types with photographic memories and a certain uncleanness about them; those who were bright but unstable; those who could not adjust; the ones whose adjustment was ordained by the state; a cluster of Latins from some Jesuit center in Venezuela, smart young men with a cosmopolitan style, freezing their weenies off; and a few farmboys from not so far away, shyer than borrowed suits.

"Sometimes I think the education we dispense is better suited to a fifty-year-old who feels he missed the point the first time around. Too many abstract ideas. Eternal verities left and right. You'd be better served looking at your shoe and naming the parts. You in particular, Shay, coming from the place you come from."

This seemed to animate him. He leaned across the desk and gazed, is the word, at my wet boots.

"Those are ugly things, aren't they?"

"Yes they are."

"Name the parts. Go ahead. We're not so chi chi here, we're not so intellectually chic that we can't test a student face-to-face."

"Name the parts," I said. "All right. Laces."

"Laces. One to each shoe. Proceed."

I lifted one foot and turned it awkwardly.

"Sole and heel."

"Yes, go on."

I set my foot back down and stared at the boot, which seemed about as blank as a closed brown box.

"Proceed, boy."

"There's not much to name, is there? A front and a top."

"A front and a top. You make me want to weep."

"The rounded part at the front."

"You're so eloquent I may have to pause to regain my composure. You've named the lace. What's the flap under the lace?"

"The tongue."


"I knew the name. I just didn't see the thing."

He made a show of draping himself across the desk, writhing slightly as if in the midst of some dire distress.

"You didn't see the thing because you don't know how to look. And you don't know how to look because you don't know the names."

He tilted his chin in high rebuke, mostly theatrical, and withdrew his body from the surface of the desk, dropping his bottom into the swivel chair and looking at me again and then doing a decisive quarter turn and raising his right leg sufficiently so that the foot, the shoe, was posted upright at the edge of the desk.

A plain black everyday clerical shoe.

"Okay," he said. "We know about the sole and heel."


"And we've identified the tongue and lace."

"Yes," I said.

With his finger he traced a strip of leather that went across the top edge of the shoe and dipped down under the lace.

"What is it?" I said.

"You tell me. What is it?"

"I don't know."

"It's the cuff."

"The cuff."

"The cuff. And this stiff section over the heel. That's the counter."

"That's the counter."

"And this piece amidships between the cuff and the strip above the sole. That's the quarter."

"The quarter," I said.

"And the strip above the sole. That's the welt. Say it, boy."

"The welt."

"How everyday things lie hidden. Because we don't know what they're called. What's the frontal area that covers the instep?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know. It's called the vamp."

"The vamp."

"Say it."

"The vamp. The frontal area that covers the instep. I thought I wasn't supposed to memorize."

"Don't memorize ideas. And don't take us too seriously when we turn up our noses at rote learning. Rote helps build the man. You stick the lace through the what?"

"This I should know."

"Of course you know. The perforations at either side of, and above, the tongue."

"I can't think of the word. Eyelet."

"Maybe I'll let you live after all."

"The eyelets."

"Yes. And the metal sheath at each end of the lace."

He flicked the thing with his middle finger.

"This I don't know in a million years."

"The aglet."

"Not in a million years."

"The tag or aglet."

"And the little metal ring that reinforces the rim of the eyelet through which the aglet passes. We're doing the physics of language, Shay."

"The little ring."

"You see it?"


"This is the grommet," he said.

"Oh man."

"The grommet. Learn it, know it and love it."

"I'm going out of my mind."

"This is the final arcane knowledge. And when I take my shoe to the shoemaker and he places it on a form to make repairs — a block shaped like a foot. This is called a what?"

"I don't know."

"A last."

"My head is breaking apart."

"Everyday things represent the most overlooked knowledge. These names are vital to your progress. Quotidian things. If they weren't important, we wouldn't use such a gorgeous Latinate word. Say it," he said.


"An extraordinary word that suggests the depth and reach of the commonplace."

His white collar hung loose below his adam's apple and the skin at his throat was going slack and ropy and it seemed to be catching him unprepared, old age, coming late but fast.

I put on my jacket.

"I meant to bring along a book for you," he said.

Copyright © 1997 by Don DeLillo

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h2oetry, January 2, 2011 (view all comments by h2oetry)
Underworld (You might think it that vampire movie - it is absolutely NOT that movie) is such an evocative title for a novel, especially when coupled with its cover's depiction of the Twin Towers covered with clouds and a flying bird angled in an eerily airplane looking way(this book came out in 1997). Not to mention several passages regarding the Twin Towers that read with new resonance after 9/11. But that isn't really what the novel is about; it's an opportune accidental feeling carried throughout the book. I digress.

DeLillo begins Underworld with pages describing Bobby Thomson's walk-off homerun (afterward called The Shot Heard 'Round the World). DeLillo places the reader at this game in the crowd at the legendary Polo Grounds in New York; you needn't enjoy baseball to like this setting. Thomson's homerun, which clinched the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants, erupts an emotional fanbase into pandemonium. A young fan, Cotter Martin, sneaks in to watch the game, eventually snagging the incredibly historic homerun away from another fan he'd just befriended. DeLillo (and history) describes this game as the same day the Russians tested a nuclear bomb. The Cold War has commenced, and the baseball takes the reader through time (the years between 1951 and 1997), as it passes through the hands of various owners. The narrative explains the American experience of Russia vs. America while mingling fictional characters with various heroes of cultural history (Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, Lenny Bruce among others). Underworld covers the conflict in close detail and from a street level perspective. It's definitely a novel for anyone fascinated in global politics, media and culture.

Klara and Nick, the main characters, meet up in an Arizona desert in the 1990s and meander back in time as the story jumps chronologically through them and others until the early 1950s. Big events play out on the national stage, and each character's motivations and circumstances are shown, hinting that each life story shares synchronicity; the snapshots of the characters slowly intertwine into each others' lives.

The baseball is viewed by many of the characters as an object with a history; by simply owning the ball they feel they'll also get the history that comes along with it. A preacher in the book discusses how history's found in the most common of places -- only that it's hidden where few think to look. By learning the history of objects the characters become more in focus with themselves and society. Some characters deal in various types of waste: human waste, nuclear waste, garbage, etc. Every product, package, wrapper or explosion has a consequence. This is the core of Underworld -- it is the waste that humankind feverishly tries to hide away like a secret. But it's always there, and eventually we're forced to confront the waste we create and the fears that we hide behind, holding us back from true desires.

Sure, the chronology is a bit jumbled, but it all ties together in the end. The rewards of persevering through this dizzying novel are endless. The dialogue driven narrative means that good listeners will enjoy this book. Reading another DeLillo novel before Underworld will help an intimidated reader, but is not a necessity. In brevity, Underworld finds roots of today in the small moments of the past.

Postscript: DeLillo has said that the inspiration for Underworld was the October 4, 1951 front page of The New York Times. Essential reading: the Lenny Bruce comedy routines about the Cuban Missile Crisis in the novel. If, AND ONLY IF you can't make it through the entire book, read the first section about the baseball game, and then the Lenny Bruce routines which are found on pages 504-9, 544-8, 580-6, 590-5, and 623-33. They are remarkable in context of the novel, but are able to be read independently of the story with great results. Upon finishing the novel, these were the areas that I shuffled back to immediately.
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Joseph_Teresa, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by Joseph_Teresa)
Best book of the decade!
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Product Details

DeLillo, Don
Scribner Book Company
New York, NY :
United states
American fiction (fictional works by one author)
Fathers and sons
American fiction (fictional works by one auth
General Fiction
General Fiction
Domestic fiction
Psychological fiction
Literature-A to Z
new york times best fiction; pulitzer; national book award; national book critics circle award; pen/faulkner; pen/saul bellow; jerusalem prize; howells medal; september 11; 9/11; pafko; jackie gleason; frank sinatra; j. edgar hoover; cold war; lenny bruce
new york times best fiction; pulitzer; national book award; national book critics circle award; pen/faulkner; pen/saul bellow; jerusalem prize; howells medal; september 11; 9/11; pafko; jackie gleason; frank sinatra; j. edgar hoover; cold war; lenny bruce
new york times best fiction; pulitzer; national book award; national book critics circle award; pen/faulkner; pen/saul bellow; jerusalem prize; howells medal; september 11; 9/11; pafko; jackie gleason; frank sinatra; j. edgar hoover; cold war; lenny bruce
Edition Description:
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
July 1998
Grade Level:
8 x 5.25 in 24.22 oz

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Sale Books
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

Underworld Used Trade Paper
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Product details 832 pages Scribner Book Company - English 9780684848150 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Working at the top of his form, DeLillo draws on his previous novels in shaping his most ambitious work yet...a brainy, streetwise, and lyrical underground history of our times, full of menace and miracles, and humming with the bop and crackle of postmodern life....He kicks the rock of reality, teases out the connectedness of things, and leaves us in awe."
"Review" by , "There are some marvelously drawn characters...and thought-provoking ideas....But somehow the various parts of the story seem more satisfying than the whole. DeLillo is one of our most gifted contemporary authors...yet one suspects that his truly 'great' novel is yet to come."
"Review" by , "Utterly extraordinary....In its epic ambition and accomplishment, Underworld calls out for comparison with works...that have defined the consciousness of their age."
"Review" by , "DeLillo always writes large, but here he has reached new dimensions....[A] stylistically magnificent, many-voiced, and soulful novel....Like novelists E. L. Doctorow and Thomas Pynchon, DeLillo uses historical figures to great effect, but DeLillo is a far more emotive and spiritual writer, and Underworld is a ravishingly beautiful symphony of a novel."
"Review" by , "Read and rejoice....Formidable characters, themes, language....Underworld delivers on every count."
"Review" by , "DeLillo offers us another history of ourselves, the unofficial underground moments....This book is an aria and a wolf whistle of our half-century."
"Review" by , "Underworld is a magnificent book by an American master."
"Review" by , "Astonishing....DeLillo has raised literary standards to new highs here, and yet the book is a page-turner, a scene-stealer, a triumph of language that takes us everywhere we've never been."
"Review" by , "DeLillo's most affecting novel yet...a dazzling, phosphorescent work of art."
"Synopsis" by , In Underworld, Don DeLillo has written a gloriously fused history of the past 50 years that offers a key to understanding American culture — our preoccupations and obsessions, our fears, our loves, our lives — as well as a chance to reexperience it. Moving through this country's most diverse landscapes, DeLillo gradually reveals his two central protagonists, Nick Shay, now a "waste analyst," and Klara Sax, a renowned artist, who had a brief affair in the Bronx in 1952 when she was thirty-two and he, seventeen.
"Synopsis" by , A finalist for the National Book Award, Don DeLillo’s most powerful and riveting novel—“a great American novel, a masterpiece, a thrilling page-turner” (San Francisco Chronicle)—Underworld is about the second half of the twentieth century in America and about two people, an artist and an executive, whose lives intertwine in New York in the fifties and again in the nineties. With cameo appearances by Lenny Bruce, J. Edgar Hoover, Bobby Thompson, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason and Toots Shor, “this is DeLillo’s most affecting novel…a dazzling, phosphorescent work of art” (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times).
"Synopsis" by , “DeLillo’s most affecting novel yet...A dazzling, phosphorescent work of art.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“The clearest vision yet of what it felt like to live through that day.” —Malcolm Jones, Newsweek

“A metaphysical ghost story about a woman alone…intimate, spare, exquisite.” —Adam Begley, The New York Times Book Review

“A brilliant new novel....Don DeLillo continues to think about the modern world in language and images as quizzically beautiful as any writer.” — San Francisco Chronicle

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