Underworld by Don DeLillo
Praise for Underworld
“His best novel and perhaps that most elusive of creatures, a great American novel . . . a masterpiece in which the depth and reach of the commonplace are invested with universal scope and grandeur. Underworld is also a thrilling page-turner, propelling us along with realistic characters and those compelling details that make it impossible for them—or us—to escape the past.”
—David Wiegand, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
“In Underworld, we have a mature and hugely accomplished novelist firing on all cylinders, at the sophisticated height of his multifarious powers. Reading the book is a charged and thrilling aesthetic experience and one remembers gratefully that this is what the novel can do, and indeed does, better than any other art form—it gets the human condition, it skewers and fixes it in all its richness and squalor unlike anything else. The novel is the ‘great book of life’ and as long as there are human beings who are readers it will survive and, with a little luck, even flourish. Don DeLillo’s Underworld is a formidably potent and hugely encouraging testimonial to this undeniable, indomitable and strangely consoling fact.”
—William Boyd, London Observer
“The most personal and contemplative of DeLillo’s novels . . . Underworld confirms that contemporary American fiction’s most promising movement involves novels on a large social and historical scale that stretch the norms of narrative and language.”
—Vince Passaro, Harper’s
“Underworld surges with magisterial confidence through time and through space.”
—Martin Amis, The New York Times Book Review
“The sheer size of the imaginative act is what is so impressive about this novel. That, and the beauty of its imagery. . . . Underworld is a magnificent book by an American master.”
“This novel will make you feel lucky to be alive and reading.”
—Adam Begley, New York Observer
“Magnificent . . . a miracle.”
—John Leonard, The Nation
“Courageous, ingenious and demanding, Underworld is a book to be talked about . . . for years to come.”
—Tom LeClair, The Atlantic Monthly
“Underworld’s intellect, its view, its fabulous drama, its soul, its passion and compassion, and the beauty of the writing, just the size and generosity of it, are all of some spectacular high order. I can’t imagine any writer reading it without complete admiration and a kind of gratitude, because if a book like that can be written in a culture like this, it’s terrific for all of us.”
“Constantly pleasing not merely for the licked-finish illusionism with which he reproduces speech, or the camera eye he brings to bear on diverse contexts, but for the ways in which the renditions of those things will depart from the known or expected.”
—Luc Sante, The New York Review of Books
“Utterly extraordinary . . . in its epic ambition and accomplishment, Underworld calls out for comparison with works like those of Bely or Balzac that have defined the consciousness of their age.”
—Melvin Jules Bukiet, Chicago Tribune Books
“You pick up and travel with DeLillo anywhere—the bliss of a baseball game, the meeting of old lovers in a desert. He offers us another history of ourselves, the unofficial underground moments. He smells the music in argument and brag. He throws the unbitten coin of fame back at us. This book is an aria and a wolf-whistle of our half-century. It contains multitudes.”
“Astonishing. A sprawling and spectacular look at a half-century in American life as seen through a series of multiple visions that come flashing into our consciousness in ways that are endlessly enlightening and awesome in their insights. 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.”
“DeLillo understands the capacity of words to elevate us above the mundane, to establish a distance from things and a mastery over them, a power emerging from the capacity given to Adam, the ability to name.”
—Steven E. Alford, Houston Chronicle
“Majestic and playful . . . amazingly light and supple for so weighty and elegiac a construction, Underworld soars like a cathedral on the audacity of DeLillo’s connections.”
—J. Hoberman, Harper’s Bazaar
“Reading DeLillo’s books bolsters our belief in the art of fiction: He catches the drift of end-of-the-century life in words, one bright shining sentence after another.”
—Paul Elie, Elle
“The larger the canvas, the better DeLillo paints. He is a novelist of big themes. . . . Underworld is a tour de force.”
—Geoffrey Norman, Playboy
“Precise, stark, gorgeous—something perhaps more properly termed a metaphysics of language, rendering and reflecting the mysteries of consciousness, those elusive meanings he and his characters so passionately seek.”
—James Held, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“DeLillo has written the first defining novel of what we are still calling the post-Cold War period.”
—Thomas Mallon, GQ
“In years to come, DeLillo’s novel will certainly be seen as a perfect document of our paranoid, teeming, deeply nostalgic age.”
—Adam Kirsch, The Boston Phoenix
“The profundity, the intricacy, the beauty of Underworld leaves me in a state of awe. It’s one of a handful of novels that will come to define our culture in this century.”
“DeLillo’s breathtaking prose transforms this otherwise bleak wasteland into a thrilling, brilliantly illuminated landscape.”
—Arthur Salm, The San Diego Union-Tribune
“For those who love eloquent prose and powerful ideas, Underworld is an eight-course meal. . . . An eye-opener, a consciousness-raising treatise on modern America by a writer in love with the power of words and the country he calls his own.”
—Dorman T. Shindler, The Denver Post
“Underworld soars. Bigger and richer than anything Don DeLillo has done before, this multicharacter, time-leaping, sea-to-shining-sea dissection of Cold War American life is perilously good—so good, so strong, deep, knowing and funny, that you might be tempted to read it and it alone, fanatically, the rest of your days.”
—Phil Hanrahan, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“One of America’s greatest contemporary fiction writers illuminates American Cold War life and its obsessions, weaving history and imagination into a huge and compelling tapestry.”
—Donn Fry, The Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer
“Anyone who wants to try to understand and appreciate the last half-century of life in these United States can do no better than read Don DeLillo’s magnificent, beautifully written and outrageously persuasive new novel, Underworld, unquestionably his masterpiece. . . . A triumphant performance.”
—Sam Coale, Providence Journal-Bulletin
“Underworld, DeLillo’s richest and most ambitious novel, seeks nothing less than the secret truths of modern America.”
—Gary Lee Stonum, The Plain Dealer
“Magnificent . . . Underworld is the most powerful and original novel that DeLillo, one of the strongest American writers of our time, has written.”
—Peter Wolfe, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Think of Underworld as a successor not to the great American novels of Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald, but to the Russian masterpieces of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. . . . A big, multistoried, glorious, moving novel.
—Philip Gerard, The Raleigh News and Observer
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Prologue: The Triumph of Death
Part 1: Long Tall Sally
Manx Martin 1
Part 2: Elegy For Left Hand Alone
Part 3: The Cloud of Unknowing
Manx Martin 2
Part 4: Cocksucker Blues
Part 5: Better Things for Better living Through Chemistry
Manx Martin 3
Part 6: Arrangement In Gray and Black
Epilogue: Das Kapital
To the memory of my mother and father
THE TRIUMPH OF DEATH
* * *
He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful.
It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom. He wants to be here instead, standing in the shadow of this old rust-hulk of a structure, and it’s hard to blame him—this metropolis of steel and concrete and flaky paint and cropped grass and enormous Chesterfield packs aslant on the scoreboards, a couple of cigarettes jutting from each.
Longing on a large scale is what makes history. This is just a kid with a local yearning but he is part of an assembling crowd, anonymous thousands off the buses and trains, people in narrow columns tramping over the swing bridge above the river, and even if they are not a migration or a revolution, some vast shaking of the soul, they bring with them the body heat of a great city and their own small reveries and desperations, the unseen something that haunts the day—men in fedoras and sailors on shore leave, the stray tumble of their thoughts, going to a game.
The sky is low and gray, the roily gray of sliding surf.
He stands at the curbstone with the others. He is the youngest, at fourteen, and you know he’s flat broke by the edgy leaning look he hangs on his body. He has never done this before and he doesn’t know any of the others and only two or three of them seem to know each other but they can’t do this thing singly or in pairs so they have found one another by means of slidy looks that detect the fellow foolhard and here they stand, black kids and white kids up from the subways or off the local Harlem streets, lean shadows, bandidos, fifteen in all, and according to topical legend maybe four will get through for every one that’s caught.
They are waiting nervously for the ticket holders to clear the turnstiles, the last loose cluster of fans, the stragglers and loiterers. They watch the late-arriving taxis from downtown and the brilliantined men stepping dapper to the windows, policy bankers and supper club swells and Broadway hotshots, high aura’d, picking lint off their mohair sleeves. They stand at the curb and watch without seeming to look, wearing the sourish air of corner hangabouts. All the hubbub has died down, the pregame babble and swirl, vendors working the jammed sidewalks waving scorecards and pennants and calling out in ancient singsong, scraggy men hustling buttons and caps, all dispersed now, gone to their roomlets in the beaten streets.
They are at the curbstone, waiting. Their eyes are going grim, sending out less light. Somebody takes his hands out of his pockets. They are waiting and then they go, one of them goes, a mick who shouts Geronimo.
There are four turnstiles just beyond the pair of ticket booths. The youngest boy is also the scrawniest, Cotter Martin by name, scrawny tall in a polo shirt and dungarees and trying not to feel doom-struck—he’s located near the tail of the rush, running and shouting with the others. You shout because it makes you brave or you want to announce your recklessness. They have made their faces into scream masks, tight-eyed, with stretchable mouths, and they are running hard, trying to funnel themselves through the lanes between the booths, and they bump hips and elbows and keep the shout going. The faces of the ticket sellers hang behind the windows like onions on strings.
Cotter sees the first jumpers go over the bars. Two of them jostle in the air and come down twisted and asprawl. A ticket taker puts a headlock on one of them and his cap comes loose and skims down his back and he reaches for it with a blind swipe and at the same time—everything’s at the same time—he eyes the other hurdlers to keep from getting stepped on. They are running and hurdling. It’s a witless form of flight with bodies packed in close and the gate-crashing becoming real. They are jumping too soon or too late and hitting the posts and radial bars, doing cartoon climbs up each other’s back, and what kind of stupes must they look like to people at the hot dog stand on the other side of the turnstiles, what kind of awful screwups—a line of mostly men beginning to glance this way, jaws working at the sweaty meat and grease bubbles flurrying on their tongues, the gent at the far end going dead-still except for a hand that produces automatic movement, swabbing on mustard with a brush.
The shout of the motley boys comes banging off the deep concrete.
Cotter thinks he sees a path to the turnstile on the right. He drains himself of everything he does not need to make the jump. Some are still jumping, some are thinking about it, some need a haircut, some have girlfriends in woolly sweaters and the rest have landed in the ruck and are trying to get up and scatter. A couple of stadium cops are rumbling down the ramp. Cotter sheds these elements as they appear, sheds a thousand waves of information hitting on his skin. His gaze is trained on the iron bars projected from the post. He picks up speed and seems to lose his gangliness, the slouchy funk of hormones and unbelonging and all the stammering things that seal his adolescence. He is just a running boy, a half-seen figure from the streets, but the way running reveals some clue to being, the way a runner bares himself to consciousness, this is how the dark-skinned kid seems to open to the world, how the bloodrush of a dozen strides brings him into eloquence.
Then he leaves his feet and is in the air, feeling sleek and unmussed and sort of businesslike, flying in from Kansas City with a briefcase full of bank drafts. His head is tucked, his left leg is clearing the bars. And in one prolonged and aloof and discontinuous instant he sees precisely where he’ll land and which way he’ll run and even though he knows they will be after him the second he touches ground, even though he’ll be in danger for the next several hours—watching left and right—there is less fear in him now.
He comes down lightly and goes easy-gaiting past the ticket taker groping for his fallen cap and he knows absolutely—knows it all the way, deep as knowing goes, he feels the knowledge start to hammer in his runner’s heart—that he is uncatchable.
Here comes a cop in municipal bulk with a gun and cuffs and a flashlight and a billy club all jigging on his belt and a summons pad wadded in his pocket. Cotter gives him a juke step that sends him nearly to his knees and the hot dog eaters bend from the waist to watch the kid veer away in soft acceleration, showing the cop a littl
He surprises himself this way every so often, doing some gaudy thing that whistles up out of unsuspected whim.
He runs up a shadowed ramp and into a crossweave of girders and pillars and spilling light. He hears the crescendoing last chords of the national anthem and sees the great open horseshoe of the grandstand and that unfolding vision of the grass that always seems to mean he has stepped outside his life—the rubbed shine that sweeps and bends from the raked dirt of the infield out to the high green fences. It is the excitement of a revealed thing. He runs at quarter speed craning to see the rows of seats, looking for an inconspicuous wedge behind a pillar. He cuts into an aisle in section 35 and walks down into the heat and smell of the massed fans, he walks into the smoke that hangs from the underside of the second deck, he hears the talk, he enters the deep buzz, he hears the warm-up pitches crack into the catcher’s mitt, a series of reports that carry a comet’s tail of secondary sound.
Then you lose him in the crowd.
In the radio booth they’re talking about the crowd. Looks like thirty-five thousand and how do you figure it. When you think about the textured histories of the teams and the faith and passion of the fans and the way these forces are entwined citywide, and when you think about the game itself, live-or-die, the third game in a three-game playoff, and you say the names Giants and Dodgers, and you calculate the way the players hate each other openly, and you recall the kind of year this has turned out to be, the pennant race that has brought the city to a strangulated rapture, an end-shudder requiring a German loanword to put across the mingling of pleasure and dread and suspense, and when you think about the blood loyalty, this is what they’re saying in the booth—the love-of-team that runs across the boroughs and through the snuggled suburbs and out into the apple counties and the raw north, then how do you explain twenty thousand empty seats?