WHITE NOISE (1985) is a novel by Don Dellilo. It won the National Book Award.
12/07/09 | Novel

White Noise

by Chad Simpson

For three days, Jake has listened to the sound of boat motors, woodpeckers, water lapping at the docks.

He tried going for walks around the lake, and tidying the cabin’s yard—he trimmed a few shrubs, mowed part of the lawn—but he couldn’t stay at anything.

He thought for a while about putting the boat in the water and decided to fish from the shore instead. A few casts in, he realized he didn’t have the heart for crank bait. He couldn’t stand how each time he cast, his heart filled a little with hope that this time the line wouldn’t come back empty.

He covered two treble hooks with cheese bait and weighted down the lines and cast them out as far into the water as they would fly. Then he stuck the ends of the two rods in holes snakes had burrowed, and left them there.

That was two days ago. He’s tried not to look at the rods since. If he’s snagged a channel cat or two, he doesn’t want to know about it.

That hope he’d felt fishing with the crank bait, he knows, didn’t have anything to do with wanting to actually catch a fish.

His son calls about every thirteen hours and has left Jake five voice mails on his cell phone.

He thinks maybe he should call him back, that a little conversation might eat up a good chunk of the afternoon. He walks out onto the deck and punches a few buttons until all he has to do is hit ‘send’ but he can’t do it. He decides to tell his son he left the charger at home, or that he wasn’t getting reception. Something.

Back inside, he spots the television. It’s covered with a dusty black garbage bag, and he removes it and plugs in the cord. Why hadn’t he noticed the television before now? A little TV is just what he needs.

It’s an old model that has been at the cabin for years, with an antenna and a cranking dial to change channels. He turns the knob one channel at a time and gets nothing. He turns up the volume using a button beneath the channel dial and the room fills with noise. He used to hate the sound, and the look, of an ashy screen, but it calms him today as he continues to click slowly through the channels.

On channel nine, he finally gets a little reception, and it’s a commercial.

Two girls interrupt their father reading a newspaper and hand him a box of hair dye that’s only for men. They say, “We think it’s time.”

Jake wonders explicitly for the first time in three days what it is he’s even doing at the lake. He remembers the funeral, but he can’t recall whether he took off before or after the luncheon that followed. Had he gotten the chance to thank all those old ladies for bringing over their casseroles?

The man on the commercial runs a little of the dye through his hair, and a moment later, he is on a date, sitting in a restaurant with a woman. The man takes a photo of himself with his camera phone, leaning shoulder-to-shoulder against the woman he is with, and sends the photo to his daughters.

The girls are sitting together in a reclining chair when their little pink phone buzzes. The photo of their dad pops up on the screen, and they high-five each other. They smile with their missing-tooth kid mouths.

Before he clicks the channel over to more ash, Jake wonders what those girls are doing at home by themselves.

Who is going to be there for them if something goes wrong?