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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
One of the first and most sustained teases in White Noise, Don DeLillo's stinging appreciation of the contemporary American family, concerns the genealogies of the children who reside with narrator Jack Gladney and his current wife, called simply Babette. “Babette and I and our children by previous marriages live at the end of a quiet street in what was once a wooded area with deep ravines,” announces Jack on the second page. Which children by what previous marriages? A not unreasonable question, the reader assumes, especially given that the novel revolves around the daily life of the household, and that each of these children (even the still mostly silent toddler) is an important character in the book. For the reader whose curiosity has been provoked (and by DeLillo's design it has), it will take a novel-long information hunt to sort out the relations persisting among the Gladneys. In Chapter 2, a family lunch introduces the names of four children but not their descent lines. By Chapter 11, a careful reader has determined that there are indeed only four children – two boys, two girls – and that one of the boys and one of the girls are offspring of Jack, the other boy and girl are offspring of Babette. It takes considerably longer to determine who the other parent of each child in the house is, where these other parents live and what they do, and what offspring of Jack and Babette not in residence exist; and, by my tracking, we do not receive the last set of details (a scheme of Jack's marital history) until Chapter 28, a full two-thirds through the novel.