Ask my roommate, who was sitting ten feet away finishing up the Senior After Hours play. I closed the book – this book that has taken me nearly a month to read – and just said “wow.”
I don’t even know quite how to tackle the task of discussing this book. I mean, there are books completely devoted to illustrating or explaining everything that happens in this book. This book is huge, it is massive, it is a colossus. I have never read anything like it, even though I’ve read many things similar. The first novel that came to mind was Catch-22 but where Heller’s novel was quirky and crazy and full of strange individuals, it was also mostly connected. Things tended to make sense. I’m not sure what probably half of the things that happened in this book actually were. If they were real, if they were chronologic, or even what the fuck they were.
The four parts of the book are like different books in and of themselves. Part One, set mostly in London, is pretty normal. Seriously, you don’t really have any clue the batshit crazy that’s coming. I mean, there’s still plenty of weird shit – weird sexual encounters, shady individuals, Pavlovian response… but then in Part Two, things go off the deep end. The incident with the octopus was really the one that did it for me. I mean, up until that point, I was able to understand and grasp everything but then I was just… “wait, what?!”
Part Two was still fun though. The Casino on the Riviera, hell yes. Made me think of Nice. It was still fun, although it started to take a turn for the darker… and yes, by the way, the octopus was more “WTF” for me than the concept that Slothrop’s erections are reverse Pavlovian responses to the firing of a rocket. Or something. It’s a little confusing.
Part Three, though, tried my patience. I’ll be entirely honest. Some of the random digressions and the way that the plot seemed to just seamlessly shift to something completely different bugged me at times. I’d be reading and imagining one character and then suddenly that character’s been gone for a page and we’re with someone else but there was never a marker that that happened. So Part Three was a bit of a struggle… but then, as I doubled down on the book, the book rewarded me and pulled me back in. I gave it the concentration it deserved and as a result I didn’t necessarily understand more but I was easily pulled downstream in the river of the story. Sure, I missed things and got confused and had no real clue what was going on for about half of Part Three… but I’m not sure that the characters and even Pynchon himself weren’t in the same boat.
Part Four, as Slothrop completely loses his shit, was just beyond wacky. In fact, I could see how Part Four might turn people off from the novel. Most of the storylines get tied up but, really, do they? Things have degenerated to such a farcical ridiculously convoluted state that any endings are really just… well… who knows how tidy they are.
Like when I saw punchdrunk’s Sleep No More at the American Repertory Theater, I walked away with lasting images more than anything else. Marvy chasing Slothrop for like a hundred pages (the custard pie fight in mid-air was awesome); the octopus; Katje and Brigadier Pudding; the sci-fi-Metropolis-esque sequence with Slothrop in Part Four; Roger and Jessica; the bananas on the roof; the casino and drinking; the weird sex scenes; the ABSOLUTELY FUCKED UP castration scene (I nearly threw up); wondering for most of the novel who the fuck Tchitcherine was and what was up with Enzian and “hey, wait, what about all that stuff with 00000 and… oh, right.”
This novel was far better than The Crying of Lot 49, which (as you can see from my post around the New Year) I didn’t really like all that much. This novel just took me in from moment one: “a screaming comes across the sky…” and despite having to put it down for the show and taking a little bit of work to get back into it after having been away for some ten days, I was right back into it. The ending was breathtaking as the rocket goes up and we see what happened and there are so many questions – SO many questions – and you have to wonder, actually, if the screaming that comes across the sky at the beginning of the novel was in fact the screaming of 00000 and if so the novel is, in a sense, something of a loop – which is a scary and yet totally amazing thought.
Rating: 5+ out of 5, sez Drewsof. What an unbelievable novel. Totally beyond any description, beyond any anything. It is a masterpiece in that rare and very very true sense of the term – where it truly defies any attempts at classification. It is more. It is MORE than anything you could try to say.