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Paranoia dialogue from Don DeLillo's Underworld   Post comment Printer friendly versionMore notes

Paranoia dialogue from Don DeLillo's Underworld
paranoia, science, nuclear testing, culture, psychology
Tuesday, May 03, 2005 03:47 GMT

Don DeLillo is one of the greatest contemporary writers of dialogue. Here's a great one from Underworld in which two characters edge into the erotic realism of paranoia.

(Photo: Monica Narula)

Eric said "Hear the latest secret?"

They were walking beyond the-bungalows at sunset, totally alone on the sand plain, and Eric kept looking around for eavesdroppers, comically of course, and he affected a side-of-mouth murmur that might frustrate even a lip-reader recruited to study surveillance tapes.

"It's an old thing just now surfacing," he said, "in the form of very faint rumors."
"What old thing?"
"Workers at the Nevada Test Site in the days of aboveground shots."
"What about them?"
"And people living downwind. These people have a name, incidentally, that totally defines their existence."
"What is it?"
"Downwinders," Eric said.

They ambled out past low growths of saltbush toward the electrified fence.

"What about them?" Matt said.
"Nobody's supposed to know this. It's something that's more or less out in the open but at the same time."
"Secret. Untalked about. Hushed up."
"What's the secret?" Matt said.
"Multiple myelomas. Kidney failures. Or you wake up one morning and you're three inches shorter."
"You mean exposure to fallout."
"Or you start throwing up one day and you throw up every succeedmg day for seven, eight weeks."
"But isn't this something we have to expect? Occasional miscalculations. It's dangerous work, you know?"

Eric seemed to enjoy this remark. No, he seemed to expect it, he seemed to find it encouraging. They walked out past a large parabolic dune and it was so draggingly hot out here that the air seemed a form of physical hindrance.

"Little farm communities downwind of the tests. Nearly all the kids wear wigs," Eric whispered.
"Doing chemo?"
"Yeah. And here and there a kid that's born with a missing limb or whatnot. And a healthy woman that goes to wash her hair and it all comes out in her hands. She's a ravishing, you know, brunette one minute and totally bald the next."
"Mainly southern Utah, I hear, because it's downwind. But other places too. Adenocarcinomas. Old Testament outbreaks of great red boils. Great big splotches and rashes. And coughing up handfuls of blood. You look in your cupped hands and you see a pint of radded blood."

They walked along the electrified fence past a warning sign graffiti'd by a protester or some apostate working slyly in the Pocket.

"You think the stories are true?" .
"No," Eric said.
"Then why do you spread them?"
"For the tone, of course."
"For the edge."
"For the edge. The bite. The existential burn."