Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Don DeLillo, Gravy, and Mashed Potatoes

In White Noise (Penguin 1986, p. 175), our protagonist describes his teen-aged son Heinrich's dinner table demeanor in the midst of a discussion about toxic waste spills:
We watched him use a spoon to mold the mashed potatoes on his plate into the shape of a volcanic mountain. He poured gravy ever so carefully into the opening at the top. Then he set to work ridding his steak of fat, veins and other imperfections. It occurred to me that eating is the only form of professionalism most people ever attain.
"This is the big new worry," he said. "Forget spills, fallouts, leakages. It's the things right around you in your own house that'll get you sooner or later. It's the electrical and magnetic fields. Who in this room would believe me if I said that the suicide rate hits an all-time record among people who live near high-voltage power lines? What makes these people so sad or depressed? Just the sight of ugly wires and utility poles? Or does something happen to their brain cells  from being exposed to constant rays?"
He immersed a piece of steak in the gravy that sat in the volcanic depression, then put it in his mouth. But he did not begin chewing until he'd scooped some potatoes from the lower slopes and added it to the meat. A tension seemed to be building around the question of whether he could finish the gravy before the potatoes collapsed.
An apt metaphor!

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