DeLillo and White Noise: Is there a method to his meandering?

One aspect of Don DeLillo’s White Noise that intrigues me is the novel’s narrative style and structure. The author certainly opens his novel in a traditional way: he sets the scene of a college campus and the circumstances of the narrator and his wife and family. And certainly DeLillo’s telegraphic sentences, almost Hemingway-like, are straightforward and factual. He’s sparing in his use of adverbs and adjectives and generous with his nouns and verbs.  But there is so much that is unexpected about this narrative style, which must have seemed astonishingly fresh, if not puzzling, to readers in 1985. DeLillo effortlessly moves back and forth between the present tense and past tense.  Much of his narration consists of sentence fragments. He includes seemingly irrelevant sentences or sentence fragments in seemingly random areas of the text (“The Airport Marriott, the Downtown Travelodges, the Sheraton Inn and Conference Center” [15]; “We believed something lived in the basement” [27]; “We had two closet doors that opened by themselves” [64]; “MasterCard, Visa, American Express” [100]).

Along the same lines, interspersed throughout the narrative are references to disembodied bits of television broadcasts, often begun with the phrase, “The TV said” (95, 96). This narrative style, I am certain, is carefully constructed to reaffirm the ubiquitous presence of advertising (billboards and elsewhere) and of television and to point to the fragmentary nature of our modern-day, media-soaked experience. It’s just a little, well, disconcerting, because it seems like an odd overlay to the story unfolding before us. But perhaps, as I suspect, that’s the whole point.

Further, there is quite a bit of dialogue to consider in looking at the narrative style, which often gives us our only glimpse of emotions and feelings of the characters, but often the dialogue veers “off topic” and peters out without coming to a conclusion (hmm, sort of like my conversations with my 20-year-old).  There are also seemingly random events and scenes to wonder about. The mysterious crying jag of Babette’s son Wilder (75-79), for example, seemed bizarre and unrelated to the story. This narrative style strikes me as “deliberately randomized” to achieve effect.

Is DeLillo toying with readers, asking us analyze and connect these odd scenes and sentences and get to a “deeper” meaning? Having read only to page 105, I don’t know, but I’m guessing it will continue in the same vein and that he will make us work hard to peel back the layers of this intriguing novel.