Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Crying of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon

She looked down a slope, needing to squint for the sunlight, onto a vast sprawl of houses which had grown up all together, like a well tended crop from the dull brown earth; and she thought of the time she'd opened a transistor radio to replace a battery and seen her first printed circuit. The ordered swirl of houses and streets, from this high angle, sprang at her now with the same unexpected astonishing clarity as the circuit card had. Though she knew even less about radios than about Southern Californians, there were to both outward patterns a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of an intent to communicate. 

Bantam Books 12th Printing

This is the second reading of Thomas Pynchon's novel The Crying of Lot 49 for me. The first time was in college almost 30 years ago when I was too busy to let all of the novels I was reading at the time really make an impact. It's one of those English major reads that students had to go through to get their degrees. It's also one of Pynchon's most accessible novels, and my recommendation for the Pynchon novel newcomers should start with.

Consider this before starting though. You know how it is when you're going along through day to day life, then you happen to notice that odd little thing that's out of place, whatever it is, that's been there the whole time but you've just never paid any attention to it before? You think about it, remark upon it to your friends, and then shrug it off. But then you see it again in another part of the city, or hear it mentioned in a coffee shop, and soon you see the trail of this very thing everywhere, that it's infected everything around you in a subtle way, daring you to pursue it, to pull the threads of meaning loose from it, but the more you try, the vaster it becomes until...

The novel follows a suburban wife Oedipa Maas after she's named co-executor of her former lover Pierce Inverarity's vast estate. Oedipa is now married to a DJ named Wendell (Mucho) Maas. Oedipa faces her duties with vague consternation and arrives in San Narciso at a roadside motel named Echo Courts which lies under the tall highway sign featuring a nymphet (yes, you're supposed to think of Lolita when seeing the term nymphet). There she meets Metzger, lawyer and co-executor who will be working with her on Inverarity's vast estate. Metzger has a deep understanding of all the property and holdings and investments that Pierce Inverarity controlled. He's also a former child actor and so good-looking that within hours both he and Oedipa are bumping fuzzies after after an exploding can of hair spray wreaks havoc in her motel room which resulted from a stripping game made up of a bet on the ending of one of Metzger's old movies that just happens to be playing on the TV. You got all that? Because that's pretty much the kind of looping zaniness you're going to deal with when reading this, or any other novel by Pynchon. It's a love hate, patience or not, kind of thing with Pynchon's plots. But since this novel clocks in at only 138 pages, you can take it. And doing so you'll get rewarded with some really cool conspiracy stuff involving an underground mail system, a Jacobean play of murder and revenge, a sinister entity known as Tristero, a muted post horn symbol showing up in the most bizarre places, heaping doses of paranoia, LSD, a Nazi disguised as a therapist, and a Beatleesque band of pot smoking mop-tops and their sexy teenage girlfriends. You also get mythic men in black, entropy, gay bars, a play within a novel, nocturnal wanderings into the seedy side of San Francisco, a used bookstore that holds more clues to a vast network of a society off the grid, or a big fat grand fucking hoax played on our heroine Oedipa as she follows a thread of conspiracy that seems everywhere around her. In addition, the short novel is rife with references to TV shows, songs, and mores of the 60's.

In a short novel like this, giving much of the plot away would ruin the fun for anyone who may be interested in reading it. Is it all a farce? Or is it something far more dark and sinister going on. The last paragraph of the novel could be interpreted in different ways. Forget about Gravity's Rainbow, or V. or even Inherent Vice. Yeah, those books get the spotlight from the intelligentsia but let's face it, a vast majority of people who start Gravity's Rainbow will never finish it. Pick up The Crying of Lot 49 instead and you'll get Pynchon's themes without having to tax the noodle, and your patience.

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