Nick Shay and Klara Sax knew each other once, intimately, and they meet again in the American desert. He is trying to outdistance the crucial events of his early life, haunted by the hard logic of loss and by the echo of a gunshot in a basement room. She is an artist who has made a blood struggle for independence.
Don DeLillo's mesmerizing novel opens with a legendary baseball game played in New York in 1951. The glorious outcome -- the home run that wins the game is called the Shot Heard Round the World -- shades into the grim news that the Soviet Union has just tested an atomic bomb.
The baseball itself, fought over and scuffed, generates the narrative that follows. It takes the reader deep into the lives of Nick and Klara and into modern memory and the soul of American culture -- from Bronx tenements to grand ballrooms to a B-52 bombing raid over Vietnam.
A generation's master spirits come and go. Lenny Bruce cracking desperate jokes, Mick Jagger with his devil strut, J. Edgar Hoover in a sexy leather mask. And flashing in the margins of ordinary life are the curiously connected materials of the culture. Condoms, bombs, Chevy Bel Airs and miracle sites on the Web.
Underworld is a story of men and women together and apart, seen in deep, clear detail and in stadium-sized panoramas, shadowed throughout by the overarching conflict of the Cold War. It is a novel that accepts every challenge of these extraordinary times -- Don DeLillo's greatest and most powerful work of fiction.
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Reading Group Guide
- "Underworld" can refer to many different facets of this book, such as the labyrinthine subways that wind beneath New York City, or the underground art scenes frequented by Klara and her friends. But it also alludes to the "underworld" that lives within each of us, the fusing of our memories, emotions, and personal histories that make us who we are. Do you agree with the prison psychiatrist who tells young Nick Shay that "we all have a history we are responsible to?" Discuss other "underworld" themes in the book.
- As Underworld's cover photo represents, there are many "twin forces" explored in this book. Identify these themes of duality and discuss how they're rendered by DeLillo.
- Few books boast a more brilliantly conceived Prologue than Underworld. Discuss your opinions of it: its construction, its language, its use of real-life in a tale of fiction. Why is the Prologue titled "The Triumph of Death?" How does its gritty, "you're-in-the-ballpark" tone compare to the tone of the first chapter? Do you think the Prologue could stand alone as a short story?
- One of the most striking aspects of Underworld's narrative is its sprawling, nonlinear structure. By the end of the novel, we have gone full-circle; we start at the baseball game in 1951, fast-forward to the 1990s, and then work our way back to 1951 again. Why do you think DeLillo chose to structure his book this