A.D., for me, has come to mean not anno Domini but anno DeLillo, an unaccountable time after the annulment of time — after the fall seasons and spring seasons, after the sweeps-weeks and opening weekends, after the early and late editions, after the updates at 6 and at 10 ... Now — if we can agree to pretend that we know what 'now' is — the master has brought us The Silence: the latest installment in his chronicle of our unrelenting present ... There is something quixotic about what DeLillo has done: writing about contemporary culture even as it collapses into subcultures, and even as the democratic dream of a collective center is derided as suspicious in identitarian terms ... The Silence is even more bone-hard and skeletally spare than its predecessor, though its subject is considerably broader. In it, humans deprived of technology resign themselves to death, and not just to individual death but to cultural death, the end of the world, the end of time.
The Silence is just over a hundred pages long, so it is not as commodious a novel as Underworld, and not as funny as White Noise. Many of the same themes recur in a pared-down form, the novel illuminating the previous work with an intense, narrow beam. Sporting masculinity, educators, other languages, systems, paranoias, what is remembered and what is forgotten, the mass mind; these are presented, not in a fritz of interconnectivity but as mimicry, emptiness and, finally, silence. Nobody speaks the way the characters in this novel do, nor are we asked to believe they would. They are, however, compelling and human, and their voices have a ritualised urgency. DeLillo is a master stylist, and not a word goes to waste. This is the novel as performance art, as expressionistic play. The Silence is like watching Melancholia by Lars von Trier or an opera by Philip Glass—it always feels 'foreign.' There is also something of the mid-1980s distilled and transported here: something rapt and male, full of longing for the machine and for the end of days.
DeLillo’s new one is a pristine disaster novel with apocalyptic overtones. It’s a Stephen King novel scored by Philip Glass instead of Chuck Berry ... The good news about The Silence is that it’s engrossing and that, at 83, DeLillo’s syntax is as prickly as ever. I’m as attracted as anyone else to stories of doomed airplane flights and intimations of the end of the world, and DeLillo mostly held me rapt. I was never sorry to be holding this novel. The bad news, in addition to a certain amount of black-box, black turtleneck pretentiousness that is a hallmark of late-career DeLillo, is that The Silence reads like the first two chapters of a disaster novel. At 117 pages, it’s over before it gets started. It’s as if a filmmaker put two couples inside a remote old farmhouse for the weekend, cut the power, cued the dogs of hell and then rolled the credits ... a minor, oddly frictionless DeLillo novel. In terms of his career, it is not waterfall but spray. Posterity will be kind to him, but it will take relatively little note of this production.
It’s tempting to view The Silence as reflective of the COVID-19 era, but it’d be wrong. Martin suggests the Chinese are responsible, but that has been a xenophobic obsession well before the winter of 2020 (According to Scribner, the novel was completed weeks before the pandemic hit.) In spite of its short length, the novel gets at something deeper and, in its emphasis on where individuals choose to direct their attention, something more quintessentially American. If you were magically freed from all your digital obligations, how would you occupy yourself? If you had the option, would you choose it?
In what may be the most high-concept book of his nearly fifty-year career, the plot’s inciting incident is the abrupt outage of all electronic screens ... In the author’s signature style, distilled half-thoughts make their way into elliptical dialogue or accrete in anxious meditations ... tension pulls across the textual divide, that is, in the frisson between the characters haltingly, scarcely being and the narrative convention in which something must give. It doesn’t much. This will disappoint some readers ... In the austere mischief of DeLillo’s novel, what is real is that no matter how long Max stares at the black box of a dead screen on Super Bowl Sunday, it will not reveal who’s truly lost. It never did.
The Silence is about the glimpse—the abrupt, jarring semi-premonition—of a post-technological void ... This all sounds fairly timely and will no doubt burnish Mr. DeLillo’s reputation as an oracle dispassionately communicating the news from the future ... Judged on the basis of topicality, The Silence is less than a trifle. It doesn’t take a guru, after all, to tell us that we’re addicted to our devices. But there is another DeLillo that I have learned to take pleasure in, and that is DeLillo the ironist, the jokester, the sideline observer who delights in, rather than despairs over, the absurdities of modern experience. Behind its deadpan delivery, The Silence abounds in silliness ... The field of language is the real setting of The Silence, and for all the talk of Mr. DeLillo’s contemporary relevance, it’s notable that the book of his it most recalls is End Zone ... If The Silence turns out to be Mr. DeLillo’s final book, he ends having imagined a space for re-creation.
Don DeLillo has been writing about imagined dystopias for nearly half a century; it just took this long, apparently, for reality to catch up with him. So it’s all the more disappointing to see such a master punting the subject as perfunctorily as he does in The Silence, a cool, fragmentary slip of a novella centered around some sort of vague catastrophic event ... DeLillo’s shrewd, darkly comic observations about the extravagance and alienation of contemporary life can still slice like a scalpel when he wants them to; Silence, though, settles mostly for paper cuts.
The kindest response to Don DeLillo’s new novel may be suggested by its title ... The Silence is one of DeLillo’s short, curious novels, possibly the shortest and the curiousest. Harper’s recently published an excerpt, which may have tempted you to hope that something more substantial lies in the book itself. It does not ... Our dangerous reliance on technology is a well-trod concern—trod brilliantly, in fact, by DeLillo’s own earlier novels. In these latter days, it’s not possible to articulate something profound about society’s fragility by striking a series of eccentric affectations. After The Road, Oryx and Crake, Station Eleven and other unnerving dystopias, The Silence feels like Apocalypse Lite for people who don’t want to get their hands dirty.
DeLillo masterfully builds thin layers of dread and desire: Musings on Einstein; sex in a bathroom stall; chaos in the city’s streets ... The second half of the book doesn’t quite deliver on the first’s premise—a grating editorial voice occasionally intrudes—but DeLillo’s prose is always supple, his gaze into our culture’s black hole as penetrating as ever. Equal parts lush and spare, The Silence never settles for easy answers.
Paranoid thinking abounds and it shows in the characters’ clipped dialogue. Much of what they say is incomplete and comes across as a cacophony of SEO buzzwords associated with the deep web and obscure references ... Because of this quality, the work feels unfinished. Its philosophical demeanor presents like a TED Talk — a pontificating voice, rehearsed gestures, long pauses to digest. But digest what? One senses there is something of substance lurking below the surface, but, ultimately, it is underdeveloped. Instead, we are given a thin philosophical broth. Nevertheless, from what I can distill, The Silence is about language fighting for primacy in a world inundated with images and screens ... The lethargic characters, the clipped, echoing dialogue and the philosophical banter are all very reminiscent of Samuel Beckett, a masterful minimalist whose work strongly resonates with the peculiar psychological toll of quarantine. But whereas Beckett did so much with so little, leveraging these constraints to create a dense network of connections for readers to parse, DeLillo severs these connections before they can bloom.
The Silence is never harrowing, or even especially alarming ... if The Silence largely ignores its premise, it also jettisons the usual trappings of plot and character in favor of dialogue and monologue, so that it resembles an absurdist play more than a novel proper ... mostly, more than any other DeLillo novel, the characters sound a lot like we do in 2020, in the time of Covid-19...The Silence, however, is less about a 2022 'different catastrophic event' than the catastrophic event we are currently living. DeLillo's 16th novel appears to be his first that is neither late nor early to the uncanny prediction of current events but arrives precisely on time ... The Silence captures the foreboding sense of time and space displaced, replaced by stretches of nothing. And the only way to fill that nothing, the novel suggests, is with language.
Can we take our prophets seriously when they become disconnected from the day-to-day textures of the phenomena they seek to comment on? ... It is in its fuzzy evocation of a half-understood digital world that the novel’s belatedness is most visible; its lack of answers so palpable.
His very short, bracingly bleak new novel The Silence is DeLillo distilled. Anyone who doesn’t like the taste will find it unendurable; for fans it’s a straight shot of the good stuff ... And the voices of these five people, and DeLillo’s familiar, distinctive voice? There to remind us that we will always try to make ourselves heard, to make a mark, even as end times approach.
It’s a promising premise, a classic DeLillo disaster. But The Silence makes for queasy reading, and not in a good way. It takes place in 2022 — but there’s no mention of the catastrophe we’re living through now ... the novel is out of touch with the times it seeks to encapsulate ... The general consensus — that DeLillo ain’t what he used to be — will only be strengthened by The Silence, which is a little too gnomic, too straight-faced, too close to late Coetzee.
...the entire novella – really a long short story of approximately 15,000 words – is devoted almost entirely to three lines of discourse ... DeLillo’s mastery of the fragmented nature of spoken language is displayed in these paranoiac blurts, which every year seem less paranoiac ... in writing his brilliant, brief tale, which takes place over six hours, DeLillo perhaps drew on the advice Chekhov gave to Ivan Bunin about how to write a short story.
The Silence is slight. Slight in the way that much of DeLillo’s post-Underworld output, especially Point Omega and The Body Artist, have felt slight. Slight in page count, yes. In plotting? Yes. Slight in humor? Yes, defiantly so. (Oh, how one wishes for the wickedly farcical DeLillo of Running Dog and Cosmopolis!). This new novel isn’t prime DeLillo, but it’s definitely not not DeLillo-esque: in ideas, in tone, in the way his characters think and act and, most notably, speak. There’s a whole world of DeLillo in these 116 pages. Yet, that might not be enough ... For fellow DeLillo-ites though, there’s plenty of connections to previous novels that might rewire your brain for an hour or so.
Even the novel itself seems to break down: while individual sentences crackle with electrical unease, cumulatively the tension drains away. The Silence is a minor DeLillo novel, it's wordy, oblique, brittle, and not much fun to read, yet it retains that unshakeable, uncanny DeLillo resonance.
DeLillo’s The Silence is downright skinny, only 116 pages, with typeface and margins a middle-schooler might use to pad his term paper ... The Silence digresses, and I mean this quite literally, into a series of overlapping, stream-of-consciousness monologues ... What makes The Silence such a letdown is that if the future is coming for us — and it is — it’s DeLillo who I most expected to nail the tenor of how that feels ... DeLillo is so obsessed with what his characters might theorize about the disconnecting world that he forgets they might feel some things, too. They’re malfunctioning holograms, sputtering their lines, supposed avatars from the future who fail to pass themselves off as human.
A much-honored master renowned for his prescience and attunement to the zeitgeist’s deepest vibrations, DeLillo says that he began writing this taut novel 'long before the current pandemic.' As virus-imperiled readers take in this razor-sharp, yet tenderly forlorn, witty, nearly ritualized, and quietly unnerving tale, they will gingerly discern just how catastrophic this magnitude of silence and isolation would be.
...a small book, precise in its calibration, about what happens when the world we've constructed, with all its technological interventions, goes dark ... this brief, disturbing story gets the sudden breakdown of society exactly right ... The writing is spare and almost playlike, especially in the second section, which concludes with a series of monologues. This is a small but vivid book, and in its evocation of people in the throes of social crisis, it feels deeply resonant.
In the end, readers gain the timely insight that some were born ready for disaster while others remain unequipped. While the work stands out among DeLillo’s short fiction, it feels underpowered when compared to his novels.