A permeating paranoia. Profound absurdity. Conspiracy and terrorism. Technological alienation. Violence bubbling, ready to boil. This has long been the stuff of Don DeLillo’s masterly fiction. It’s now the air we breathe. For nearly 50 years and across 17 novels, among them classics like “White Noise,” “Libra” and “Underworld,” DeLillo, who is 83, has summoned the darker currents of the American experience with maximum precision and uncanny imagination. His enduring sensitivity to the zeitgeist is such that words like “prophetic” and “oracular” figure frequently in discussion of his work. They will very likely figure again in regards to his new novel, “The Silence,” in which a mysterious event on Super Bowl Sunday 2022 causes screens everywhere to go blank. “The way our culture moves along changes the way all of us think,” DeLillo said. “I don’t think it’s a question of better or worse. It’s simply inevitable.”
Let me ask about something that’s not in “The Silence,” at least not anymore. In the first galley copy I read, there’s a scene in which a character is reciting disastrous events and mentions Covid-19. Then I was told there were changes to the book and was sent a second galley. Covid-19 was gone. Why did you take it out? I didn’t put Covid-19 in there. Somebody else had. Somebody else could have decided that it made it more contemporary. But I said, “There’s no reason for that.”
I’m shocked that an editor or whoever had the chutzpah to jam anything, let alone a Covid-19 mention, into one of your books. It wasn’t going to stay, that’s for sure.
Still, “The Silence” feels attuned to current anxieties. What planted the seed? What got me going was the idea of a blank screen. It led everything. Then there was the notion of the Super Bowl, which has been in the back of my mind for some years. Watching the football game joins us together in one aspect and then looking at a blank screen suddenly is a kind of cataclysmic footnote. There was also a flight I was on between Paris and New York, and for somewhat mysterious reasons, I made notes. There was a screen under the overhead bin. So I watched the screen and there was information there like outside air temperature, time in New York, arrival time, speed, etc. I wasn’t accustomed to this.
I hate when I’m on a plane and realize I’m compelled to keep staring at that screen. What intrigued you about it? What was intriguing is that I was also compelled to look. I’d never experienced this before.