From the National Book Award-winning author of Underworld and Libra, a short novel novel set in the near future about five people gathered together in a Manhattan apartment for a Super Bowl party in the midst of a catastrophic event.
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.
Dread is the predominant phenomenological mood in DeLillo’s work, and it directs his language, the hard, flinty poetry of a writer who seems to surmount despair only by his trembling, always self-doubting sense that within language there are mysteries that promise revelation, perhaps a shred of redemption ... The Silence evokes all this and more ... What is fascinating about how DeLillo deals with this high-concept idea is that he intentionally bleeds it of dramatic excitement ... All the advanced buzzwords of our technocapitalist era. Lest you think DeLillo, by tossing out these terms, is just throwing everything he can think of into a noisy vat of apocalyptic paranoia, understand that he uses the terms the way most of us hear them in real life: as signifiers for things we know are important, potent, and frightening, but which are surrounded by a mystery so deep that they make us feel baffled and helpless ... a sadness and pessimism about the American and planetary future that is without precedent in his work. But it is a beautiful book in the way tragedies can be beautiful: testaments to the strength of those who can face the dread with an inspiring honesty and integrity—which is another thing great writers teach us.
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.