07 December 2008

The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon

What has been generally a dull year for my reading fancies, is now becoming, at the end, a series of great books. I decided to embark on the Ozzy Osbourne mode of transportation, and simply dive into the surrealistic world of a fellow alumni - Thomas Pynchon. The thought came to me as I was simply walking through the library to grab a book on Kenya, when suddenly I had a very strong desire to meet Sir Isaac Newton and a Leprechaun (by which I mean Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, for those of you wishing the more direct route to grandma's house). As it was out, I decided - a step up on the sanity ladder most likely - to take out the Crying of Lot 49, and to consider it as an initiation of sorts into Pynchon's world. More like baptism by fire.

Complex. Convoluted. Post-modern. Surreal. Tangential. These are not usually words that one wishes associated with one's writing style. Pynchon, if he could be located for comment, would most likely bask in the warming glow of such wormy flaws. Imagine, if you will, a 6 year old telling you a story. Now imagine that story being filled with socially relevant yet obscure allusions. Ok are you still with me? Now imagine that 6 year old having a vocabulary, whose breadth and depth would surpass even the most high scoring GRE applicant. You are now starting to get the picture of Pynchon's work.

As for the Crying of Lot 49, I thought it brilliant. I honestly admit that I enjoy such reading challenges and in fact am somewhat of a self centered snob when it comes to such things, but I don't think my lower lip has gotten too fat to say when I'm simply confused by a book. Although at times frustrating, I guarantee you'll be smiling and laughing through these frustrations. It is not unaccessible - the way I suspect his other works are - and it is highly amusing. The plot, if one can justifiably call it that, involves one Oedipa Maas, who is named the executor of her late lover's will. In so being named, she is plunged into a world of international postal devivery conspiracies, Californian subcultural madness, thermodynamic inconsistencies, and general mayhem personified in the myriad characters she finds along the way.

I liken the comedic aspect of the book to A Confederacy of Dunces; the plotline to Tibor Fischer's The Thought Gang; and the brilliance of Midnight's Children. However, as all these works followed The Crying of Lot 49, it is easy to see the influence that Pynchon has had on writers of the last half century. Now if he would only make more appearances on The Simpsons.


Or a plot has been mouted against you, so expensive and elaborate, involving items like the forging of stamps and ancient books, constant surveillance of your movements, planting of post horn images all over San Francisco, bribing of librarians, hiring of professional actors and Pierce Inverarity only knows what-all besides, all financed out of the estate in a way either too secret or too involved for your non-legal mind to know about even though you are co-executor, so labyrinthine that it must have meaning beyond just a practical joke.