Monday, December 30, 2013


Vineland, Thomas Pynchon
Read: 15 to 26 May 2012
5 / 5 stars    

I don’t usually finish a book and start a review in the same breath. But I also don’t usually allow myself to read more than one of an author’s works within a calendar year (many books, little time--though of course Stephen King would be this year’s other exception because the Tower, all things yield to it): T. Ruggs, you magnificent bastard, I hope you know how many personal rules I’m violating because you’re the first time since auspiciously picking up my first collection of Bukowski poems that I’ve been able to add a This Writer Changed My Life For Always notch to my literary bedpost. Reading Vineland confirmed what Gravity’s Rainbow left me suspecting: I bloody love Thomas Pynchon. Rilly.

Finishing Gravity’s Rainbow left me with an almost obscene urge to help myself to another serving of Pynchon, which is an urge I’ve been fighting for months now. I finally caved, intending to take on V. but settling for Vineland because part of the joy of Pynchon is the inherent madness, and I just can’t handle another meaty tome yet (the latter weighs in at a few pages shy of 400; the former.... uh, does most assuredly not). And because I haven’t talked about GR enough, I am still a little battered from that experience (my opinion on bananas might be forever changed, too). I needed something a little less daunting first. Enter: Vineland.

This book was so good. Now being able to pinpoint a Pynchonian pattern--a few: musical outbursts, sleuthing plots, oddball character names, stunning tangents that really aren’t that tangential after all, a natural vocabulary only found in the most ruthless of Scrabble opponents--helped me identify what I adore most about Pynchon’s prose. It’s his ability to concoct some of the most overtly zany scenes in literature, to confront the reader with these in-your-face storms of hilarity for the sake of maximizing the subtle tragedies he gently lets the story consider, leaving the reader to marinate in sadness. It’s an effect that would be any mixture of sloppy, condescending, formulaic or tedious if attempted by anyone else but Pynchon makes it work. The real success is that his characters who need be sympathetic are so when someone realizes that her best days are behind her or comes to the dawning realization that he’s being used by an entire government or has an ugly epiphany about the mother she never knew, it is the most heartbreaking scene in the world.

As for the effort involved in decoding the obscure references that are sprinkled throughout Pynchon’s books as liberally as the Bacon Bits on any salad worth eating, I was deeply grateful that T. Ruggs's novel begins the same year as I did, which meant I caught waywayWAAAAY more cultural allusions this time. The narrative flows better when I’m not running to a secondary source every three lines and I appreciated the opportunity to enjoy this book less haltingly, which isn't to say that I didn't need to have a few reference materials handy. There were enough hazy hippie memories to keep me on my toes, though I caught a number of those as often as I had a flutter of joyful recognition every time The Doors or Zeppelin or Pink Floyd or some other People's Republic of Rock and Roll favorite got a shout-out.

I feel a reread of The Crying of Lot 49 and maybe Inherent Vice in my future. Color me fucking amped.

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