Sometimes people ask what I did on vacation (and, sometimes, did I take pictures of it).
The answer is usually, mostly, “no.” This year, however, I did Do Something (although I didn’t take pictures of it): I read Bleeding Edge, one of the two Thomas Pynchon novels that I had never read. Began it on the bus to Cape Cod, and finished it on the bus coming back.
I had started it before, at least once, but it usually takes me a few tries to get a good momentum going with Pynchon. First I get bogged down with all the characters and names and stuff, and then, finally, I decide to power through and I resign myself to the fact that I probably won’t have any idea what’s going on. To quote Publisher’s Weekly: “[R]eading Pynchon for plot is like reading Austen for sex.”
(What’s interesting is that, in Inherent Vice at least, the plot is very tightly constructed. It’s easy (and fine) to ignore that, but the structure is there if you look, and it’s solid.)
And, of course, as always, Bleeding Edge reads like Pynchon, which is always a pleasure. It has so many wonderful, wonderful sentences. I’ve said it before, but, still, despite my best efforts, every sentence Pynchon has ever written is better than any sentence I’ve ever written. To quote Publisher’s Weekly again: “Luckily, Pynchon and Austen have ample recourse to the oldest, hardest-to-invoke rule in the book — when in doubt, be a genius. It’s cheating, but it works. No one, but no one, rivals Pynchon’s range of language, his elasticity of syntax, his signature mix of dirty jokes, dread and shining decency.”
To quote the New York Times:
Thomas Pynchon is 76, and his refusal to develop a late style is practically infuriating. The man’s wildly consistent: the only reason Bleeding Edge couldn’t have been published in 1973 is that the Internet, the Giuliani/Disney version of Times Square and the war on terror hadn’t come along yet.
As my mother used to say about certain very old jazz musicians and painters, “He’s still doing his thing.”
And, obviously, one of the many things you can learn from Inherent Vice is that the Internet was already in motion several years before 1973. It didn’t look anything like the Internet of today, but that’s part of what this novel is about. Bleeding Edge, which takes place in 2001, is steeped in the end of the Internet (not that the Internet is done, obviously, but the early, optimistic days were long ago overtaken by massive engines of profit and surveillance).
And, yes, this is a September 11 novel, though it takes its time to get to the events of that morning, and what came after.
This is not a review, obviously. I’ve only read it once, which with Pynchon is barely a beginning.
One more quote from the Times:
In summary: Despite the lack of personal information supplied about the author, it’s plain, from the sweep and chortle of his sentences, from the irascible outbreaks of horniness, from the pinpoint rage at popular hypocrisy and cant, that young Pynchon is a writer of boundless promise, sure to give us a long shelf of entrancing and charismatic novels. I believe he has a masterpiece or three in him. I look forward to seeing what he’ll do next.
Later update: You want to know what it’s like to read a novel by Thomas Pynchon? At least for me? (Although I am definitely not the only one.)
In the Douglas Adams novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything is revealed to be the number 42. This novel, which does not propose any ultimate answers to anything, has 41 chapters. Is this intended to tell us…
Anyway, you can see how it goes.