Monday, June 17, 2013

V. (Thomas Pynchon)

V., Thomas Pynchon
Read: 6 April to 8 May 2013
5 / 5 stars

I propose that the titular "V." is neither a person nor a place but a preposition.

What, really, is more personal than a first novel? It's that all-or-nothing, balls-to-the-wall debut effort that can either send a fledgling writer plummeting to dream-shattering depths with an effort that falls flat for any number of reasons or it can be the inaugural celebration all starry-eyed young scribes dare to hope for, that which heralds a staggering new talent to a canon populated by the many great wordslingers who've scribbled their way to well-deserved immortality. (For argument's sake, we'll work under the assumption that those flimsy flavor-of-the-month bestsellers that are so in vogue for their seemingly eternal 15 minutes will, in time, be forgotten and written off as yet another regrettable mistake born of groupthink's lapse in judgment while these truly remarkable feats of literature persist through the ages.)

If one is to write what one knows, how daunting must it be to know so much about such a wide range of complicated topics -- minute historical details of a time one either never experienced or was simply too young to fully digest, regardless of youthful precociousness; engineering equations requiring mathematical acrobatics and a more than adequate grasp on physics; an insider's take on the naval experience; an innate understanding of how to perfectly mix high-minded concepts and lowbrow humor with a dash of poetic lyric -- and attempt to whittle it all down into a tome that won't crush potential readers under the weight of both the volume itself and the awe-inspiring ideas roiling within?

The little we do know about literature's most elusive enigma points to pieces of Pynchon being flung along the narrative's parade route like confetti, adding flashes of biographical color to his intricately structured and beautifully written first novel that pits the animate against the inanimate and the internal self against the external veneer (and has the best-ever bonus of an Ayn Rand stand-in reduced to baby-talk in the presence of a pwecious widdle kittums-cat?). Aside from what can only be thinly veiled allusions to his Cornell days with Richard FariƱa and their cult of Warlock -- regarding the Generation of '37: "And we did like to use Elizabethan phrases in our speech"; "A farewell celebration for Maratt on the eve of his marriage"; "Dnubietna leapt up on the table, upsetting glasses, knocking the bottle to the floor, screaming "Go to, caitiff!" It became the cant phrase for our "set": go to."; "The pre-war University years were probably as happy as he described, and the conservation as "good."", to say nothing of the nod to a novel called Existential Sheriff -- the internal conflicts of the writer seem to be scattered throughout V. like a breadcrumb trail back to the source himself.

Because Pynchon has be one conflicted dude. To be a notoriously private man juggling such derision for the spotlight with the compulsion to write for unseen but rabid fans, to churn out maddeningly, densely obscure works that are nevertheless guaranteed to meet both critical and commercial success (and increase sales of Excedrin in the following months), to posses such finely tuned right and left brains that he can be considered nothing less than an engineer-poet in his own right, to walk such a fine line between historical fictions and fictional histories -- is it any wonder that a man so in touch with dueling perspectives would build his first novel on the foundation of This v. That?

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