February 28, 2014

Gravity's Rainbow

I'm not sure how to talk about GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, the massive novel by Thomas Pynchon. I could try explaining what the story's about, but the text itself doesn't seem overly concerned with that issue. I'd like to describe the style, but I'd need to know more about literary criticism to do that accurately. I ought to say if I liked the book, but I'm not really sure. I read the whole thing, all 760 large pages of dense paragraphs, and I'm rather proud of that accomplishment. I'm not sorry I read this book, but I can't decide whether or not I'd recommend it to anyone else.

I was aware going in that this would be a difficult book, and it was true right from the start that reading required extra concentration, but early on, I was pleased by how much I was enjoying it. The lengthy descriptions and rambling sentences made for exactly the sort of writing I usually avoid, and yet the quirky characters, intriguing ideas, and dark humor were powerful enough to draw me in. Finding a wiki devoted to indexing and annotating the novel also helped me keep track of what was going on.

I knew nothing at all about the story when I began reading, and it was a nice surprise to find myself in London near the end of World War II, because that setting interests me. As the large cast of characters was introduced, it looked as though the plot would revolve around military scientists searching for patterns in the falling bombs, some taking a statistical approach, and others trying to use ESP. That seemed like a great premise, but after a couple hundred pages, the focus shifted to one character's convoluted quest around Europe in the immediate aftermath of the war. I was sorry to leave behind many of the characters I liked in the first section, and I might have preferred the plot that I thought I was in for. Still, there was plenty of good stuff in the story that the book turned out to be telling, but there were also many huge digressions away from this apparent plot, and I got tired of that after a while.

This book isn't as much about conveying a plot as it is about evoking the mood of a particular time and place, which is one of the things that makes it hard to describe. The frequent digressions are one distinctive aspect of the book's style. Some of these provide historical details or go into character backstory, and I often found those worthwhile, but not always. Other tangents are more random, taking hold of some thought and riffing on it at great length, and I could have done without most of those. The narrative is odd and unexpected in many ways that I guess qualify as experimental or postmodern. I was mostly okay with that, but it makes for slow reading. The book also contains quite a bit of disturbing material of various kinds, so it's not for the squeamish or prudish.

My overall review is that I felt fairly positively about GRAVITY'S RAINBOW for approximately the first half, and after that, I was mostly ready to be done. I've long been curious to know what Pynchon is like. My curiosity has now been satisfied, and that's enough Pynchon for me.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At The Millions, Edan Lepucki interviews her copyeditor, Susan Bradanini Betz, on the details of her job and process: "Creating style sheets is the secret to catching small errors. I am obsessed with my style sheets. I keep a word list, a character list, a list of places (fictional and real), a chronology, a general style sheet, a list of hyphenated modifiers, and any other list that helps me keep track of everything."

No comments:

Post a Comment