Pages and pages of Pynchon

Scott McLemee recalls finding a letter from Thomas Pynchon (declining Stanley Edgar Hyman’s invitation to teach at Bennington) while working as an archival assistant at the Library of Congress.

He also offers this brief evaluation of Pynchon’s latest book, Against the Day:

The new novel itself is long (not quite 1,100 pages) and dense, sometimes brilliant and sometimes tiresome, and occasionally very silly (the cameo appearance, for example, by Elmer Fudd). It is also remarkably resistant to capsule summary. Oh, what the hell. Here goes anyway: Against the Day is a historical novel about the secret relationship among dynamite, photography, and multidimensional vector spaces that treats the emergence of the 20th century Zeitgeist from a clash between revolutionary anarchism and the plutocratic Establishment. See?

To discuss the book adequately would demand a seminar lasting four months, which is also the ideal period required for reading the book — instead of the four days it took one reviewer, who then promptly had a mild nervous breakdown. Something about Pynchon’s work incites academic commentary. At least four scholarly books have already been devoted to his last novel, Mason & Dixon (1997). Even someone who enjoys him without feeling the itch to exegesis will probably feel driven, at some point, to do supplemental reading. Partway through Against the Day, for example, I found it urgent to go read an encyclopedia article on the history of theories regarding ether, the substance once thought to permeate even “empty” space.

McLemee’s full review is scheduled to appear in Newsday this weekend.

Max, a devout Pynchon fan, has been reading our household’s copy of Against the Day for a couple weeks. I’m sure he would’ve finished by now if the heft of the thing didn’t preclude taking it on the subway without the aid of a wheelbarrow. As it is, he’s more than halfway through. In the interest of preventing another five-month disappearance into the alternate universe known as PYNCHON-L, I volunteered him for the Pynchon roundtable discussion.

Elsewhere, see the Literary Saloon’s detailed review.


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