Watching her mother open a new pack of gum, Denise informs Babette that what she is about to consume is proven to cause cancer in lab animals. Babette counters by pointing out that the only reason she chews gum is because Denise told her not to smoke. Plus, she maintains, she only chews two pieces per day. Steffie and Denise don’t belief this figure, remarking that Babette’s memory is so bad, she probably has no idea how many pieces she chews in any given day. This seems to bother Babette, prompting her to ask, “What do I forget?”
Given the fact that Jack and Babette are so attuned to issues of health and death, it is no wonder that Denise—a mere child—pays such close attention to health-related risks. The dangers of the contemporary world, with all of its chemicals and harmful inactive ingredients, are clearly apparent even to a child.
Meanwhile, Jack goes upstairs to find Heinrich deliberating over his next move in a chess game he’s playing with an imprisoned murderer, Tommy Roy Foster. He asks his son about Tommy, seeming to do so out of a sense of fatherly obligation, as if he ought to explore the nature of their relationship to ensure that Heinrich isn’t getting too wrapped up in a personal relationship with a killer. The conversation quickly takes a turn, though, and Jack finds himself immersed in the drama of Tommy’s story, which Heinrich narrates to him in vivid detail. As Heinrich tells him about how Tommy heard voices and murdered five people in Iron City, Jack is unable to resist the impulse to join in, complementing the story with his own hypotheses about the details of Tommy’s actions, all of which Heinrich confirms are accurate.
Collaborative storytelling—like the kind Jack engages in here—runs throughout White Noise. Jack jumps in and becomes an active storyteller even when the story is not his to tell, a process that perhaps speaks both to his wish for control and his discomfort when he is not in a position of authority. The fact that all of his hypotheses regarding the details of Tommy’s crime are accurate indicates how fully inundated he has been by the news and other disaster-peddling forms of media; it seems he has heard so many stories about murder that he has internalized a common homicidal narrative and is thus capable of reconstructing it on his own. In other words, he is familiar with the typical shape of a murder plot.