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.
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.