I finished Gravity’s Rainbow last week. For me, it was a bit of a disappointment, not so much with the book itself, but with myself for not devoting the time to reading it more faithfully from start to finish. With the previous Pynchon I’ve read (Crying of Lot 49, Mason & Dixon, Against the Day) I started out reading very carefully, taking notes as I went along. After I got comfortable with the narrative and felt I was familiar enough with the gestalt, I blazed through the remainder of the book. This time around, I started the same way, but didn’t devote the time to reading it after the first part and I wasn’t able to keep the characters and situations in my head. So the novel wound up as a jumble. I can see the brilliance and magic at the margins of my comprehension, but that’s about it.
At this point, I’d have to place it below both Mason & Dixon and Against the Day in my list of favorite Pynchon books. Someday I’ll have to pick it up again and try to give it the time it deserves.
Since finishing it, I’ve been reading like crazy. First was Deb Olin Unferth’s Vacation, which was fantastic. It reminded me a bit of the way Paul Auster can keep you off balance and wondering what will come next as the characters start behaving more and more strangely. Then McSweeney’s 28, which was a series of entertaining short fables (my favorite was the one about the guy who kept meeting himself). Finally, Mary Roach’s Bonk. I enjoyed this one as well, even if the continual footnoted asides became tedious by the end. I was amused, and feel like I learned a lot about what science has to say about sex.
After my success at quickly completing three books, I’ve started working on 2666 by literary superstar Roberto Bolaño. I had to special order it because my local independent bookstore didn’t have any copies, and appeared to never have heard of Bolaño. They’re surprisingly out of touch with the world of literary fiction, which seems odd for a store trying to survive the big box, low price onslaught of Barnes and Noble. Maybe they make their hay selling Twilight or whatever other bestselling doorstop is popular today and forgotten tomorrow.
In any case, 63 pages into 2666 and I’m highly amused. Thus far, the story has revolved around four literary critics obsessed with a reclusive German author. If that sounds like an odd premise for a story, it is; odder still is that despite there being very little plot, I’m eager to get back to it.
More eager than chopping wood or cooking my Thanksgiving ham, stuffing, gravy and sweet potato pie, in fact.
I’ve started reading Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon’s masterwork. I tried to read it many years ago, and gave up after 100 pages. This time around, I’m familiar enough with Pynchon’s themes and style of writing that I don’t think I’ll run into the trouble I had before. I’m reading it with Steven Weisenburger’s Companion as well as Zak Smith’s page by page Pictures, which are helping to make it easier to discern the narrator and location of the action in each episode. Smith’s illustration for the following quote appears to the right. Page 49 of the book, which takes place during the Nazi V2 rocket attacks on London:
All over this frost and harrowed city…as once again the floor is a giant lift propelling you with no warning toward your ceiling—replaying now as the walls are blown outward, bricks and mortar showering down, your sudden paralysis as death comes to wrap and stun…and the sight of your blood spurting from the flaccid stub of artery, the snowy roofslates fallen across half your bed, the cinema kiss never complete, you were pinned and stared at a crumpled cigarette pack for two hours in pain, you could hear them crying from the rows either side but couldn’t move.
So far I’m really enjoying the book, despite the investment I’ve decided to make in trying to understand everything I’m reading. Pynchon, as always, writes like a brilliant madman.
Here’s a brief conversation, overheard on the Pynchon-L mailing list, for those of you on the fence about reading GR:
M.R. I am a new member to this list, and in fact to Pynchon’s writing. What would folks recommend as my first read?
K. You don’t want to die without having read Gravity’s Rainbow, so why take chances?