Tuesday, November 21, 2006
A confession: I went to a "book party" last night at Skylight Books in Los Feliz to celebrate the release of Thomas Pynchon's latest book, Against the Day.
I am fully aware that taking part in such an event fairly opens me up for charges of pretentiousness and total dorkiness. As Mrs. Octopus very rightly commented as I left the house at 11:30 for the event, "Enjoy your dweeb-fest."
Okay, so it was totally ridiculous. What can I say? I genuinely loved Mason & Dixon and Gravity's Rainbow. I've read them both several times. A friend of mine, whom I respect very much, once noted that people who read Pynchon often tackle his books to finish them as some sort of badges of merit or achievement that they can proudly display. I may be open to that charge. But I also know that I love Pynchon's works for their fantastic riffs on science and faith, sympathy for the underdog, disdain for self-important and abusive authority and power, stupid songs, and dumb jokes. He often seems to me to be our most American writer: who else manages to blend nuclear bombs, Plasticman, King Kong, Pavlovian responses, Malcolm X, organic chemistry, rocket science, and toilet humor so brilliantly and entertainingly?
Anyhow, it was a strange scene at the bookstore last night as we passed the time until midnight, when the bookstore clerks could legally hand us our copies of Against the Day. There was a table with wine and cheese, some snacks, and there were efforts to get people to socialize, but the die-hards who showed up at 11:45 at night didn't seem to be the most socially gifted people in the city. A few people wondered whether Pynchon was still alive. Someone wandered into the bookstore and asked a few people assembled there what the big deal was: Why were people so into Pynchon? Was it his use of language? His storytelling? His character development? No one really had a ready answer. A young group of poets had wandered into the bookstore near midnight, apparently up for any literary event they could find in Los Angeles. They seemed dressed as if for a club, except in a kind of Rushmore way (i.e., plaid skirts, etc.). One of them asked someone if Pynchon always wrote in the third person. A good question: a few of the self-identified Pynchon diehards had to think about it, before venturing a half-hearted "yes". There was a lot of lurking about by solitary Pynchon fans (like the Octopus), sipping soda and avoiding eye contact in the Gardening and Architecture aisles, while anxiously gripping receipts for their pre-paid copies of Pynchon's latest (and last?).
Altogether, a very interesting event for L.A.
Most reviewers appear to agree that the book is too long, baggy in places, with flashes of brilliance, but generally exhausting in its scope, digressions, and cast of hundreds.
Here's my question: when did these reviewers get this book, and how long have they had to read the 1085 pages? I'd probably be cranky too if I had to race through a doorstop like Against the Day to meet a deadline for a review.
I'll check back in with a review of Against the Day in three to four months.