My shrink, pursued by Israelis, has gone mad; my husband, on LSD, gropes like a child further and further into the rooms and endless rooms of the elaborate candy house of himself and away, hopelessly away, from what has passed, I was hoping forever, for love; my one extramarital fella has eloped with a depraved 15 year old; my best guide back to the Trystero has taken a Brody. Where am I? (147-148)
I have never read Thomas Pynchon before, though I’ve come damn close. (Wow… is it just me or has that sentiment [at least, variations on the theme thereof] been the recurring trope of this blog thus far?) Against the Day was one of those books I held in my hand at Borders and forced myself to put down in the interest of other, more accessible works. Inherent Vice has gotten pretty good reviews and its on my Amazon wishlist. Whenever I see a list of “great books of the 20th century,” there is at least one Pynchon on there. When I heard there would be an Olive Edition of The Crying of Lot 49, however, I knew my opportunity had arrived.
This book was a short one – thankfully. I don’t know if I could have taken a longer account of this warped narrative. I can’t even completely tell you what happened in the novel – basically, this woman is named executrix of an estate and then she manages to get caught up in some kind of underground mail system conspiracy thing. This actually seems like a really groovy plot and something I’d be interested in. Pynchon’s style, though, is… well, its infuriating. The characters are one-dimensional at best (even Oedipa, the main character) and more often than not seem like – bear with me – images instead of people. They fold into the action then fold right back out like some kind of twisted MAD magazine foldy face thing. The dialogue can be infuriating and his digressions of the plots of plays or stories from history (made up or otherwise) were pages long and sometimes quite jarring. Now, I’m all for digressionary narratives – I love footnotes and tangents and things, mainly because that’s how I tend to think/tell stories – but something about these ones just bothered me.
That said… I couldn’t help but be intrigued by this novel. More than intrigued. I was taken in by it, completely. I wanted to dislike it about 50 pages in, I really did. I was having trouble staying ‘in it’ as I was reading, often taking breaks and things over the last day or so. Maybe that’s the curse of the Saturday-of-Thanksgiving-Break but I think it was more than that. This book has had no less than three opportunities to be started since I bought it two weeks ago. Each time, I’ve read the first page… then gone to something else. Was the LSAT prep I did this afternoon enough of a mental workout to get me ready to really power through this book? Was it the three glasses of wine I had with and after dinner? Not sure. Regardless, I was intrigued by this novel. I wanted to know what the hell was going on. Am I pissed that I still don’t really know? Sort of – that ending left me wishing for a scene in the vein of the one in North by Northwest. Instead, we just sit back and wait with Oedipa for the crying of Lot 49 and the presumed reveal of the mysterious man interested in the Trystero stamps.
Pynchon (whom I’ve done some pretty intense Wikipedia research on (…)) is notoriously secretive. That’s cool – makes his works that much more intriguing (there’s that word again). However, he is quoted as disliking this book. He said something like “in writing it, [he] forgot everything he’d learned until then” or some similarly disparaging remark. I can’t agree or disagree, having not stepped into his other works in any manner other than holding them in a bookstore. That said, I can understand why he might dislike this book – it seems to be lacking something. Perhaps what I said about its length earlier was a mis-statement: if it were longer, perhaps it would feel less jerky and less LSD-trip-like.
To Sum Up: postmodernism, for sure. This book is weird and difficult and almost doesn’t want you to want to read it. But I enjoyed it, despite itself. It intrigued me and it was a challenge. And goddamn, the Olive Edition looks might pretty.