A screaming came across my brain

There are two books on my shelf that almost stare at me and taunt me as I pass by. Two books that I think I enjoyed reading. Maybe. I might also have hated reading at least one. I think.

Gravity’s Rainbow is a story about – uh, I don’t think that will work for this one. In Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon tries to – um, no. Let me try again.

What is Gravity’s Rainbow? A parabola. The path of the V2 rocket as it screams across the sky. If Noah’s Rainbow is God’s covenant with man, Gravity’s Rainbow is man’s covenant with death. And the future. And sex. And the color magenta. And possibly Mickey Rooney, if I recall correctly. Certainly Pavlov. Probably alien pinballs and intelligent societies of lightbulbs too. Pynchon was trying, I think, to express his feelings on Modernity, on our totally corrupted deranged nature.

The publishers would have you believe, in the hopes of selling the novel to you, that the plot (people like plots) revolves around one Tyrone Slothrop whose erections attract V2 rockets. Why anyone, why I, in fact, would find this interesting is a mystery. But the book isn’t really about this anyways. Well it is. But it isn’t. Cheat-reading this book won’t be an option.

Gravity’s Rainbow is notorious for briefly being the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The three member jury were unanimous in their decision. The fourteen member Pulitzer board, however, had other thoughts. Like: Turgid, Unreadable, Overwritten, and Obscene. I’ll agree with all of those. It certainly is obscene. Oh wow, is it obscene. But it’s also absolutely brilliant and fascinating.

One of my favorite reading experiences is encountering the total expression of theme. Form perfectly mirroring content and vice versa. A great example of this is Oedipus Rex. There the the mounting irony reflects the condition of Oedipus. We know what we should not as he does not know what he should. Pynchon is a master of expressing theme structurally. The well of Gravity’s Rainbow falls into the novel itself creating an inebriating chronologically nested structure. Ahem. That is, mirroring the path of the rocket, the parabola, the book moves in and out of time in arcs. Without warning. When Character A shifts to B, then C, and D, and so on, then back up to D, C, B and then A again. Or instead of characters it might be periods in time. Once you realize what’s happening it’s quite exciting – if inebriating. I mean, it made me feel drunk. Like I was drinking. Not a metaphor – the book made me drunk.

And there are ideas aplenty. Tangents to follow up. Truth, half-truths and lies to pursue. And hilarious, slapstick, loony-tunes humor.

But, I don’t really want to read it again even though it is brilliant. Well, I really do, but, then again, not really. The book is insanely exasperating and quite obscene as mentioned above. And it has so much to recommend. But I can’t recommend it.

I’ll follow this up with that other taunting book by Pynchon (his books aren’t aware of the pathetic fallacy) sitting on my shelf. I can’t recommend it either but it’s certainly not a w.a.s.t.e. of time.

6 responses to “A screaming came across my brain”

  1. There’s a line in a Gene Wolfe story that goes something like: “Armchair thinkers of the time thought early rockets were clearly phalluses. It’s not their fault, they didn’t know about much else.”The character then goes on to say that early rockets were actually like single-celled animals.

  2. Hmm. I think you have almost accomplished the impossible – making me want to read ‘Gravitys Rainbow.’Keep up the good work.

  3. Ian Daniel Stewart Avatar
    Ian Daniel Stewart

    Elliot: I think I’m going to like reading Gene Wolfe.Clemens: Thanks, Clemens. What’s more impossible, reading Gravity’s Rainbow or deciding you want to read it?

  4. I have to agree with view on Gravity’s Rainbow. It was one of the most enjoyable a rewarding reading experiences I have ever had, and there is no way I will ever read it again.

  5. Thanks for me making me laugh, Greg. That really sums up my feelings with Gravity’s Rainbow.I don’t know about you, Greg, but Against the Day is sounding really tempting. I probably won’t give in though.Welcome to Upper Fort Stewart.

  6. […] The other taunting book on my shelf, The Crying of Lot 49. A little easier to handle than Gravity’s Rainbow. […]

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