A Question about Springfield's only paperbagged author.
November 11, 2008 5:14 AM   Subscribe

Pynchon Filter: I really enjoyed The Crying of Lot 49, but I really didn't like V. Based on this very small sample size.. Will I enjoy Gravity's Rainbow?

I like challenges, and one of the biggest challenges in literature is wading through the works of Thomas Pynchon.

I do like postmodern and subversive literature. And I am very willing to give an author the time he/she needs to bend my mind. But I just couldn't get into V. Pynchon's first novel. Mainly because I didn't like the characters - which is especially difficult when the book has no real plot.

But on the other hand I really liked The Crying of Lot 49. But I am troubled by the fact that it is held to be Pynchon most accessible work.

So now I am at Pynchon's 3rd novel (and his magnum opus): Gravity's Rainbow. I know it will require a large investment to read, a task that was apparently too much for some of the judges of the Pulitzer Prize in 1974, who meekly admitted they couldn't read it before voting to award it the prize (though later overturned). Which is why I would appreciate some feedback from people who have walked the trail I am about the embark on.

Am I going to throw it all in in frustration as I did with V? or will Pynchon have a new fan for life upon my possible completion of this epic task?

Any insight from fellow bookworms is appreciated. And before the inevitable 'just STFU and start reading it' comment comes up: I probably will. I just want an idea of what I am in for before I plonk down my cash.
posted by TheOtherGuy to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't read V, only Crying of Lot 49 (which I loved) and Gravity's Rainbow (which I was just starting to really get in to when I ran out of the time and energy necessary to finish it). GR definitely starts out as a very difficult book, but it becomes very rewarding after the first half. There is an interesting plot, and lots of characters that I wanted to know more and more and more about.
posted by muddgirl at 5:25 AM on November 11, 2008

I really like Pynchon, and have read all his books. I would say that if you liked Lot 49 over V then you are less likely to like Gravity's Rainbow. GR is more like V than it is like 49. If you don't like Pynchon's particular brand of elliptical plotlessness then you may just not like it. On the other hand, just STFU and start reading it.
posted by OmieWise at 5:26 AM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Loved GR (though it seems like it took me a couple months to finish), enjoyed Crying, never got into V.
posted by orthogonality at 5:32 AM on November 11, 2008

I loved Gravity's Rainbow and Lot 49. V, I was kind of lukewarm on.
posted by gimonca at 5:39 AM on November 11, 2008

I'm yet another who loves Gravity's Rainbow and Lot 49, but not so much V. Against the Day has a lot of the big awesomeness of GR, but is much more accessible and readable. But really, give GR a shot, and keep butting your head into it until it clicks. Totally worth it.
posted by Bigfoot Mandala at 5:50 AM on November 11, 2008

Really? I loved V. And GR. And CoL49. Have you considered Mason & Dixon? Very good characters in that.
posted by methylsalicylate at 5:54 AM on November 11, 2008

Loved 49.
Found GR tough, but rewarding in the finish (after second reading).
V I've read once, wasn't totally into it. But don't want to judge it based on one reading, when Pynchon probably demands more than that.
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:57 AM on November 11, 2008

Loved GR (though it seems like it took me a couple months to finish), enjoyed Crying, never got into V.

This was my experience, exactly. I managed to finish Mason & Dixon, and enjoyed it in a lot of ways, but didn't like it as much as Gravity's Rainbow. And I think I made it about a chapter into Vineland before putting it down forever.
posted by Forktine at 6:08 AM on November 11, 2008

I won't pretend that I was able to conquer Gravity's Rainbow. Not yet, anyways. It is a challenging read, so ultimately, if you are not into really taking the time to think about what you are reading, then you won't enjoy it at all. If you like a challenge and can handle a large read, then go for it!
posted by scarello at 6:23 AM on November 11, 2008

Portions of GR were hit-or-miss. The actual plot? Genius. The entire filler chapter describing the protagonist's imagined travel through bathroom plumbing? Not so much.

Several books exist to supplement reading it, offering chapter walkthroughs (a la Cliff's Notes) and page-by-page documentation of Pynchon's allusions.
posted by spamguy at 6:26 AM on November 11, 2008

Ease yourself in with Vineland.
posted by fidelity at 7:25 AM on November 11, 2008

I ended up writing a dissertation chapter on Gravity's Rainbow. It took me three tries to get through it (the first two times I stalled out after 50-100 pages), but it turned out to be well worth it in the end. I prefer it to V. and Against the Day (though I've only read ATD once, and GR several times--at least three).

If it is characterization that's your priority, though, Mason and Dixon is his best for that, in my opinion. GR's characters can seem more like incarnations of ideas than actual people at times, but Mason and Dixon's characters feel more like real people to me.
posted by Prospero at 7:32 AM on November 11, 2008

Play around with this episodic flash overview
posted by hortense at 7:35 AM on November 11, 2008

If you didn't like V., you may well not like GR, but why not just start it and see?
posted by languagehat at 7:58 AM on November 11, 2008

Omiewise said exactly what I thought. GR is much longer than the others you have read so far. If you do read it, beware that there is a "swamp" in the reading about 1/3 of the way in that is hard to motivate yourself past. If you get that far, you should really keep going, it gets better.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:15 AM on November 11, 2008

Don't forget "Slow Learner", a collection of early short stories. Great stuff! I just finished "Against The Day" and mostly enjoyed it. I loved "Mason / Dixon" but it took a long time to get the cadence of 18th century english to read correctly in my brain.

I really enjoyed "V", and and have read "Gravity's Rainbow" 4 times. That being said, whoooooof! If you don't mind cheating a bit, you might want to get a Cliff's Notes or something that will briefly summarize each chapter and read that before (or maybe after) you finish a chapter to solidify the context.

Didn't really get into "Vineland" that much. Maybe I'll give it another shot - It's been 10 years or so.
posted by Aquaman at 8:28 AM on November 11, 2008

One more salvo:

I liked V, Lot 49, and Vineland. I couldn't get into Gravity's Rainbow at all. It just never held my attention. Have not read Mason/Dixon yet.
posted by aperture_priority at 9:01 AM on November 11, 2008

Like, spamguy said, he lost me around the 70th page of the character literally swimming through cities of shit. if that sounds like something you might enjoy though, by all means dive in!

I know you weren't really asking for other recs, but have you read Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle? It's absolutely brilliant. He's like a Pynchon for non-masochists.

posted by drjimmy11 at 9:07 AM on November 11, 2008

I read Gravity's Rainbow first, amazingly enough. It took me a year, but I don't devote big chunks of time to reading. I also liked Crying and Vineland. I didn't finish V or Mason & Dixon. If I tried one again it would probably be V. I will second Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as a great book, one of my favorites. You could also try Don Delillo's Underworld, which is a weird copy (in my opinion) of Gravity's Rainbow that is a bit more accessible. But I also ended up feeling it was a bit derivative having read it before GR. I do like Delillo, though.
posted by Slothrop at 9:27 AM on November 11, 2008

Best answer: Honestly, a group of MeFites saying whether or not they liked any of Pynchon's books won't help you. Each Pynchon book is almost schizophrenically polarizing in its own way, and I've rarely met the person who's adored all of Pynchon's works (but maybe that's because so few people have bothered reading them?)

Don't be deterred by the notions that GR is cold and calculating. It's certainly not my cup of tea, and I detest the snobbery among hardcore Pynchon fans who think GR's length and deliberate difficulty is just testing the mettle of "real" readers. GR sets a necessary precedent for better novels like Infinite Jest: it's less sanguine and some passages are in serious need of editorial euthanasia, but its existence is a boon for pomo lit everywhere. Without GR's publication and controversial accolades, DFW and his contemporaries would not have been met with such wide berth to test their caterwauling stories.

Anyways, you should GR not because you think you'll like it, but because it's important (if you care about reading, that is) to know why you like it, or hate it, or fall somewhere in the middle. For me, reading GR felt like sitting down in front of an exquisitely prepared meal constructed entirely out of aluminum foil; my very good friend just finished it and declared it the most emotional, big-hearted, eccentric novel he's ever encountered. It's fantastic there are still books out there that establish such erratic valences among readers.

It's so much fun to sniff out those brave few who've wrestled that beast and ask them, "So what did you think?" The only boring answer to that question is, "I didn't read it."
posted by zoomorphic at 9:37 AM on November 11, 2008

I just picked up The Crying of Lot 49 from the library, and I haven't read V. yet, but I have read Gravity's Rainbow and enjoyed it immensely. It took me about 3 months to wade through, stopping on every page to consult Steven Weisenburger's A Gravity's Rainbow Companion. I highly recommend the concordance; it made the gigantic dimensions of the novel much easier to wrap my mind around, pointed out the plethora of tiny detail, and was probably the only reason I didn't quit halfway through GR.
posted by carsonb at 10:42 AM on November 11, 2008

I loved Gravity's Rainbow.

But- and this is something very different- I also loved the experience of reading Gravity's Rainbow. Of course I wasn't going to get every allusion, though having some kind of concordance would have been great. I only got the Nathan of Gaza was through my graduate school oral exams. I don't know from physics. At the time I spoke not a word of German. I know it sounds strange, but don't focus on comprehension. For me, GR is in part a book about what it means to live through time (that is one small part of the role physics plays in the book). Part of what Pynchon's trying to do is to give use a sense of moving through a point in time where history is being created in the present, to show us how a moment in time consists of all possible possibilities, every scrap of flotsam, every archetype and influence people live and think and act with. It's weird. Sometime sci-fi-ish. Lots of fucked up sex, weird octopus eroticism, Nazi-on-Herero porn. Let it flow over you, don't get stuck on certain chapters because you feel like you have to map the plot precisely or understand every sentence. Follow the trajectory, like the V2 or the travel through the sewers. You won't "get" everything. I didn't. But I can read it once every five years and each time I will understand more and differently.

Several books exist to supplement reading it, offering chapter walkthroughs (a la Cliff's Notes) and page-by-page documentation of Pynchon's allusions.

Where and what are they?

Also, Illustrations For Each Page of Gravity's Rainbow
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:23 PM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I only got the Nathan of Gaza was

the allusion to Nathan of Gaza, that is. Sheesh.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:24 PM on November 11, 2008

I'll agree with zoomorphic in the polarizing ability of Pynchon's books.

Personally, I went apeshit for Vineland and Lot 49 after college, but after beating myself over the head with Gravity's Rainbow for 7 or so years, I've finally gotten halfway through and I'm enjoying it. It is a marathon read, unlike Lot 49 or V. My advice: commit time to it, because the first half is an uphill battle. I had to promise myself 10 pages a day for the first week, 20 the second, 30 the third and so on, right up until the end of the first half, in order to make any progress at all. Just fight the urge to put the book down and you'll be fine.
posted by electronslave at 4:35 PM on November 11, 2008

Where and what are [supplementary books for Gravity's Rainbow]?

Steven Weisenburger's A Gravity's Rainbow Companion is decent, though I remember it as having a few errors, and missing some things that ought to have been glossed (he misses a reference for one walk-on character, a batman named Corporal Wayne, e.g.). It's keyed by page and line number to a particular edition, though (Viking hardcover; Penguin paperback) and I'm sure the type for Gravity's Rainbow was reset for a later edition.
posted by Prospero at 5:01 PM on November 11, 2008

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