The other taunting book on my shelf, The Crying of Lot 49. A little easier to handle than Gravity’s Rainbow.
This is one of the few books I’ve read with a heroine. A nerdy guy like me notices these things. Anna Karenina is really the only other “girl” book on my shelf and she’s really not the heroine. It doesn’t matter – Pynchon and Tolstoy also have slightly different approaches to the novel. One wants to create the illusion of life and the other wants to recreate life’s illusions. Which is more real, I wonder?
Anyways, our heroines name is Oedipa Maas. Pynchon is great at coming up with ridiculously suggestive names. Tyrone Slothrop? The King of apathy and casual sex. Oedipa Maas? How about Oedpial Mass? Like some kind of Gnostic Cannibalism. Appropriate for the riddling, ruining communion with the paranoid and her self she undertakes. Although, “Oedipus, my ass!” might be another hint. Sometimes, however, Pynchon goes too far with his fanciful made up names. Wernher von Braun? Come on, Pynchon.
What’s the book about, really? I don’t know, it’s a bit of a satire on the hip, intellectual, working, twenty-something life of the 1960s. Oedipa starts on the trail of a mystery, an acronym, W.A.S.T.E., which leads to a vast underground conspiracy (that everyone seems to know about) pointing back to the renaissance and pointing towards who knows what. Or maybe she’s following W.A.S.T.E. into madness.
That’s the thing, “Or”. Either/Or. As Oedipa finally approaches the truth she finds an artifical construct forced upon her.
… now it was like walking among matrices of a great digital computer, the zeroes and ones twinned above, hanging like balanced mobiles right and left, ahead, thick maybe endless. Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth. Either Oedpia in the orbiting ecstasy of a true paranoia, or a real [conspiracy].
The digital world of zeroes and ones is an artifical construct that translates the startling power of electricity into this or that, yes or no. Either/Or. When we impose these artificial divisions on the world (I’m looking at you religion and science) we’re not only mistaken, we are, like Oedpia Maas, killing ourselves. And there is no hope, Pynchon seems to say, in knowing the truth. When the trumpet finally blasts and the sky peels back Pynchon would have us believe that we’ll only find ourselves, looking into a mirror, nervously trying to laugh.
At least, I think. I am so totally allowed to have a completely subjective opinion on a post-modern novel, though.
Would I recommend The Crying of Lot 49? I won’t say for sure. It’s a little too gonzo to take seriously. But then, it’s so serious. I don’t want to force myself into an Either/Or position on this one.