Monday February 22nd, 2010

Fighting Over White Noise

Slate recently hosted a nearly one-hour conversation between Meghan O’Rourke, Stephen Metcalf, and Troy Patterson about Don DeLillo’s White Noise, one of my all-time least favorite novels. Patterson dislikes it as vehemently as I do. Metcalf, whose criticism I’ve often enjoyed, loves it, and says he “laughed out loud constantly” while reading it. This is unimaginable to me. He also says that in reading it, he doesn’t get a sense “at all” of “a smug sense of superiority over the suburban droid.” That’s one of the most potent things I took from the book, a condescending (and uncomprehending) caricature of suburban living. O’Rourke is technically the “moderator,” but really functions as a full third participant, and she seems torn between the claims of the other two.

What I like most is that Patterson makes his case, briefly, and then sits back and lets his fellow panelists read from and defend the book in a way that makes it sound as bad as it is. In fact, by the end Metcalf seems to have talked himself into a lesser enthusiasm, saying that the book succeeds as satire even if that satire is driven home “somewhat tiresomely and excessively.”