30 August 2004
A screaming comes across the screen
When I was much younger, I read V. and The Crying of Lot 49, which managed to persuade me that Thomas Pynchon was some kind of weird virtuoso, man; I've got to see what comes next.
What came next was Gravity's Rainbow, which shared the National Book Award in 1974. (A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer was the other laureate.) Gravity's Rainbow "puts the world of manipulation and paranoia within the perspectives of history," said Ralph Ellison at the NBA ceremony that year, and maybe it does, but it's as thick and impenetrable as the hull of a German V2 rocket.
I was twenty-two when I first tackled this book, and I've made three subsequent tries; I got through it completely only once. I rather think I've discharged any obligation I may have had to this book. Syaffolee, in her twenties, is even less impressed:
Every two pages, I wanted to scream and hurl the book hard enough that it would crash through the wall and conk the person next door unconscious. What was Pynchon thinking? Or more accurately, he wasn't thinking at all. If this book was a person, it would be an automaton with all the grey (and white) matter blown away except for the brain stem. On the surface it's just one big phallic metaphor as obvious as a guy with a tent in his pants. Look deeper and you might as well go insane by gazing into an encyclopedic Pandora's box. Don't try this one out unless you're a masochist who enjoys painful lobotomies over a nice relaxing weekend.
On the upside, I did manage to work "Tyrone Slothrop" into my late-Eighties list of suitable noms de screen, though it was never received as well as, for instance, Patty O'Furniture.