In my home growing up, at the landing at the top of the stairs, we had a large collection of Readers Digest Condensed books. Each book contained four or five novels greatly abbreviated for the impatient reader. I believe they belonged to my grandmother, who died when I was one. No one in the house ever read them, but they sure looked nice on the landing.
Once or twice I attempted to dive into them, but it felt like cheating. Like reading Cliff Notes. Plus, without the pacing and details of the original novel, the stories felt hollow. It was pretty much like reading the movie version. Hence the cliche, “the book was better.” The book is almost always better.
Noah Baumbach created probably the best movie one could make out of White Noise, but it still falls short because of inevitable comparisons to the book. Baumbach would probably not be insulted to hear “the book was better.” He probably believes it, too. Well over half the book had to be cut to squeeze it into the 136 minute run time. He gave use the Reader’s Digest version of the book and it felt predictably hollow.
The sad thing about this whole affair is that it didn’t have to be. Baumbach did such an excellent job directing and the actors were perfectly cast (although, the children all seemed about a year older than I envisioned them in the book—perhaps because of the delay between casting and shooting?). The obvious solution—one I write about extensively on this site—would be to make it a limited series. Include all those Jack/Murray conversations in all their meandering glory. Include all the characters and every single detail from the book. Actually adapt the book to the screen.
Synopsis of White Noise
Just kidding, I’m not giving you a synopsis. READ THE BOOK. No, seriously, read the book. White Noise may be the greatest literary triumph written in English. It’s one of, if not the, best books I’ve ever read and I’ve read a lot of books.
I also have a lot of unconventional opinions about White Noise. I’ve attempted to put this into an essay several times but it’s never fully come together. One day it will appear on this site. The gist of it is this: don’t believe anything your professors or Cliff Notes or anyone else tells you about this book. This is a modernist novel that relentlessly mocks postmodernism. It is not some postmodern triumph.
Don DeLillo’s prose sings throughout White Noise and this could never be captured on film. He makes the mundane comical and always has the perfect way of describing things. As far as novels go, it is the height of perfection.
Analysis of White Noise
White Noise will probably seem weird to anyone who has not read the book. For those who have read the book, it’s an interesting homage that only contains the key plot points. What more is there to say? Do not watch this movie before you have read the book.