Friday, March 09, 2007

Shaggy Dog Story

What a frigging swindle! 776 impenetrable pages and it's a blankety-blank shaggy dog story! One long and ultimately inane shaggy dog story. OK, so I can concede the guy has some talent, not to mention improbable erudition on a number of unlikely subjects. There were many points in this book where I could see that the author knew how to tell a story, and had a deft touch with odd imagery. Telling a story wasn't on his program though - his goal was to suck the reader in just enough to fall for his little prank.

I can see why Mr. Pynchon scrupulously avoids any kind of publicity or exposure to readers. I would certainly be tempted to pick a fight with him if I met him on the street. Just for wasting weeks of my time.

I had started a more detailed review, about 500 pages in. At that point I rather liked the book, despite the drug addled meandering of the text. For the last hundred pages or so, though, I began to suspect that none of the plot lines of the story would ever be resolved, but kept on, wading through his endless dreck in the increasingly hopeless hope that there would be some consumation to the story.

I'm talking about Gravity's Rainbow, by the way. The back cover blurb from The New Republic (which I guess must have sucked even back then), called it: "The most profound and accomplished American novel since the end of World War II." I can't agree. There is a lot in this book, history, rocketry, the German genocidal destruction of the Herero in Africa, a couple of equations, a not especially appropos citing of Goedel's theorem, and much, much more.

There is also endless and excruciatingly boring descriptions of abuse of drugs real and imaginary, some organic chemistry, plenty of perverted sex, and a paranoid vision of the world.

If there is one word to describe this book, it is "discursive." "Many words and few to the point" as GG once said. This is an author likely to digress in the middle of a page, paragraph, or sentence. An otherwise unconnected tale of a military haircut somehow turns into an eight page riff on an immortal light bulb, and its adventures scatological, sexual, and other while pursued by the world's electric light bulb cartel - this one was actually somewhat amusing, which can't be said of many of Pynchon's digressions.

There are several hundred characters in the book, all connected by about one degree of separation. Four of them are drawn in enough detail to be actually interesting - so naturally we find out next to nothing about them.

I looked over some of the reviews on Amazon. As usual, most either loved the book or hated it, but none of the haters seem to have gotten past the first hundred pages or so. Consequently, it was an unpleasant surprise to find out that I didn't really hate it until the final page.

Still, there was much to be amused by, especially for the geek. Here is a sentence fragment: "...a quaint brownwood-paneled, Victorian kind of Brain War, as between quaternions and vector analysis in the 1880s..." That debate, mainly between Hamilton and Tait (for quaternions) and Gibbs and Helmholtz (vectors) was actually conducted with remarkable sarcasm and vituperation.


Legion of Decency: Morally objectionable for all.

Movie: NC-47 for language, sexual perversion, and drug use.

Style: what a waste of a big talent.

Reader satisfaction: Screw you Pynchon.