So, for those who don’t know and haven’t figured it out yet, I really like books. I majored in English along with biology at Hanover and I am still an avid reader now that I’ve graduated (arguably more avid now with all this free time). That being said, there are only a few novelists I really get excited about. I mean like embarrassingly excited. Most of those authors are dead, like Proust or Steinbeck or Joyce. But there are a couple still out there writing, like Rushdie (who I recently read and love). Then there is Thomas Pynchon. I really like Pynchon. To a potentially unhealthy degree. First it was Crying of Lot 49, then Gravity’s Rainbow, then Against the Day and Inherent Vice, then both Gravity’s Rainbow and Against the Day again. Then V. and some coursework over him. I still have to work through Mason & Dixon and then get my hands on Vineland, but as it stands I’m pretty well through his general body of work. Which is why Tuesday has got me embarrassingly excited, with another Pynchon novel set to come out.
Bleeding Edge is Pynchon’s first novel set in New York City (where he apparently lives) since his debut novel V. published in 1963. I say he apparently lives there because Pynchon is a noted media evader, so his location is always a bit of mystery. I hesitate to say recluse, because reclusive authors typically don’t choose to live in a bustling metropolis like New York City. There is a difference between retreating from society and choosing not to do interviews or public appearances, and it is a difference very applicable here. But in truth, Pynchon’s secretive and guarded nature in his private life has never really interested me that much. Personally I understand why a hippy like Pynchon would frown upon the intense lack of privacy in modern media and subsequently avoid it. But that’s not the point. The point is the book. For me, the point with Pynchon has always been the book.
Crying of Lot 49 is a densely packed novella that typically acts as most students’ introduction to Pynchon these days. I read it for a class, wrote a paper about it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. So I picked up Gravity’s Rainbow. Where Crying curls in on itself in a tightly wound narrative, Gravity’s Rainbow sprawls in every imaginable direction, across history, continents, cultures, genres, sciences both social and natural, and a variety of media, deconstructing every last bit of human culture the author lays his hands on. Pynchon was like no one I had ever read. He was not just an author with encyclopedic knowledge and a flair for the epic, he was also just a remarkable poet. Few people can draw a parallel between a sprawling banana breakfast and the mechanics of genetics and make both seem stunningly beautiful in the process. But Pynchon can, did, and within the first ten pages of Gravity. Say what you will for his brilliant postmodern thought or cutting commentary on most any topic you can think of, sometimes he just says thing that are too pretty to deal with. I won’t even get into Against the Day. I could talk about this stuff all day.
In his old age, Pynchon’s style has been shifting. Inherent Vice was, quite frankly, fun. A cross between The Big Lebowski and The Big Sleep, it played with the hard-boiled genre in an entertaining and thought-provoking way. Then Against the Day dropped, with considerable force given its size, and while it lacked the ease and fun of Vice it also lacked the fury and obscurity of Gravity’s Rainbow, as Pynchon spun over a thousand pages of yarn that it feels like he genuinely enjoyed creating. He’s even relaxed his media embargo, doing two small guest appearances on The Simpsons back in 2004 and recording a voiceover Youtube advertisement for Vice when it first came out in 2009. Age has mellowed Pynchon towards a more comfortable and personable storyteller, and someone certainly more approachable than the staggering and off-putting virtuoso he was back in the seventies.
I am, perhaps, a bit too excited about Bleeding Edge. I can’t guarantee that it will be good or that Pynchon will have retained his magic. But this will be the first time I’ll have been aware of one of his releases and reading it when it comes out. Which is pretty cool for me, since I’ve been playing catch up with him over the past few years. Now that we’ve covered all of this, I feel I should say that if nothing gets posted on here for a few days after Tuesday, that’s most likely why. Hopefully I’ll be back soon, but with Pynchon, I promise nothing. At this point I know better.