Saturday, January 20, 2007

Pynchon Party

Two weeks ago, I finished Thomas Pynchon's new novel Against the Day. Not sure of Mr. P's intent, but I do know for many of us pynchonistas/os out there, it was a long luxurious Christmas gift to ourselves, whether bought at the midnight hour, or - as in my case - cyberqueued up for one of the eight copies rolling into the San Antonio library (a system that insists - am I so out of the loop these days that this has become de rigeur? - on cataloguing Gravity's Rainbow and V as science fiction). I think I have accidentally been the first to check out...well, come to think of it, I queued up for McCarthy's No Country for Old Men and managed a virgin copy of that, too, with decidedly less happy results than I just had with ATD. (I love McCarthy; I even finally muscled up for Blood Meridian, and found it starkravingly gorgeous in its own horrifying way, but NCFOM was, for the time being, NCF this old man...)

In truth, I thought I was probably done with Pynchon. I stood reverently in the 18 year queue following GR, still too young and foolish to realize that you probably don't follow up a GR with another GR, but I remained smitten enough to just be happy back in Vineland, no matter where he might want to take us. Mason and Dixon, on the other hand, broke me, and in that breaking is where I felt that we were likely to part company. Though in my heart of hearts I still maintain that M&D is first and foremeost a love story, it was hard for me to hold onto that thread through all the convolutions, much less feel that the thread made the 800 pages worth reading. In fairness to Mr P, I was probably woefully out of reading-shape, and I was also four or so years into my own fiction-writing, which was and is (and should and ever shall be) completely unpynchonesque. The vastly simpler writing voice I was discovering left me bereft of ear and will to sit down to the grand pynchon buffet.

So, it came as some great surprise to me that, sometime in late November of last year, my surf-noodle veered sharply into a Pynchon-google, finding out about the imminence of his new arrival. Very quickly, again surprisingly, I was hooked, completely swept up in all the Mardi Gras of expectation, verily, as I said, even queuing up to the bar. I peeked in at the wikis and bloggers, laughed at the audacity of reviewers pro or con, I mean, come on.

I'm aware of Pynchon readers being tagged as pretentious, reading for the sake of saying we have read. This is bullshit. The only pretenders, of course, are those who say they have read him and haven't. There is no status conferred by our X number of readings of GR, there is simply the luxurious, riotous, cacophonous splendor of the time spent with the teller and the extended tribe we must all feel ourselves to be, because, come on, kids, for all his megaton splendiferousness, P is, above all, a devilishly noodling Thelonius to all his giggling and attentive little fireside/piano-side kiddies. Those big mile-wide words? Soap bubbles or smoke rings blown so we can all go ooh and ahh. And we do, we do. Oh, how we do. Look at the cool colors on that one, Mr P!!

So, surprise, surprise: I loved Against the Day: got swept up, lost several times, but settled into a nifty reader's groove about midway, when I made damn sure I sat up in bed and did not try to balance its heft on my belly: gotta stay at least focused and AWAKE, kids.

When Larry McMurtry got his Pulitzer for his magnificent Lonesome Dove, even though it was years after he'd started writing, I thought, what a drag in a way: this man will write on for years (as he has) and never ever get close to another LD. Forget the prizes, just the pure rough magic of that book. Funny, I never had the same feeling about Mr P, after the Denali of Gravity's Rainbow. We all must have known that there was a Sagarmatha lurking there, over the next ridge. A-and who knows, our latest Christmas treat may have just been Annapurna in the stocking...

We all read as we read, and as heady as Mr P is, I'm still a bear of relatively little brain. I do's what I can do's, makes of it all what I can, and enjoys the ride. I'll come back again (I always do) and miss more stuff through each cruise. But, I have to say, this book, all its brilliance notwithstanding, was lovely. Lovely. And wonderfully warm, and yes, I think this has everything to do with Daddy and Husband and walking son to school Pynchon. Face it: brilliant detonation that Gravity's Rainbow has been in our lives, our Tunguska Event, Against the Day is the aftershock, the what we do with it in our lives now that it's here...

Folks have ragged on the anarchists. Screw that. P shows us two things about anarchy: vengeance is "reactive" to the pillage, and more importantly, anarchy in its purest form is not about violence whatsoever: it is the dream carried forward that humans can blend and cooperate and love without authoritarian interference: it is our truest heartbeat.

I feared that it would be a long time before I could settle into another novel, so I've spent the past few days doodling with Barthelme, just for pure goofiness and distraction (very poor rendering of Don B, as Thomas P would be the first to agree), but this evening I picked up Joan London's Gilgamesh and actually felt as if I were reading within the covers of ATD, that its "web-traverse" was mapping myriads of levels of connection among us, and lovingly gathering us in...even into all those others by the fire...

Peace, love, and soul, Mr Pynchon. And happy dancing...


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