Skip to main content

Gravity's Rainbow review

So I finally did it. Plowed through this beast of a novel, all 887 pages in my tattered and duct-taped paperback version (I tore the cover off at one point on accident...coincidence? It can't be). I think I read five other books from the time I started to the time I finished. Everyone said that this is the kind of novel you either love or hate, but in this as in many, many other things my principal reaction is…shrug.

First let me say that it wasn’t that hard, certainly not as hard as I was led to believe. Sure, Pynchon often changes subject or narrator in mid-paragraph or even mid-sentence, he often starts a section without any lead-in whatsoever, and figuring out time is a chore (on purpose, I suppose), but that’s about it. Running through it all is a relatively straightforward plot that one can follow even with long breaks at times. There are numerous references to obscure 1940s pop culture and a dollop of engineering and chemistry here and there, but none of those are key to understanding the basic points. I was lazy and didn’t read much supplementary materials, but even I caught a lot of the references (except for the tarot and Gnostic stuff at the end). Those who have called it as hard as Finnegan’s Wake are fools—it’s written in a real language, fergawdsake.

On balance, I’d say I liked it, but I was often at a loss as to how to react. Not to say that it inspired no reaction at all. Parts of it are truly inspired, and often funny, and the prose is devilishly original. Pynchon makes these winding digressions, piling on lists of objects and characteristics (one of his signature moves, and he’s good at it), making what seems to be a massive effort, but I was often left admiring nothing more than the sheer strangeness of it all. The main pulse of the book, the consistent motivating force across most of the main characters, is paranoia. Deep, nail-biting megalomaniac paranoia. I never quite grasped why this should be such an important feeling, subject of such a massive tome. Maybe if I were smarter I would get it.

On a side note, Pynchon often uses simple activities or natural phenomena (like the rise and fall of a rocket) and imbues them with heavy metaphorical significance. Combine that with the consistent theme of paranoia, and I got tired of it after awhile. I suppose my main problem with the book was just crankiness. I see (in a dim way) what he was getting at with the Us/Them business infusing everything, even molecular bonds, but it just pissed me off a little.

Still, a great book. Someday I may even read it again and learn to like it more. But not for a long time.


Popular posts from this blog

Why Did Reality Winner Leak to the Intercept?

So Reality Winner, former NSA contractor, is in federal prison for leaking classified information — for five years and three months, the longest sentence of any whistleblower in history. She gave documents on how Russia had attempted to hack vendors of election machinery and software to The Intercept , which completely bungled basic security procedures (according to a recent New York Times piece from Ben Smith, the main fault lay with Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito ), leading to her capture within hours. Winner recently contracted COVID-19 in prison, and is reportedly suffering some lingering aftereffects. Glenn Greenwald has been furiously denying that he had anything at all to do with the Winner clusterfuck, and I recently got in an argument with him about it on Twitter. I read a New York story about Winner, which clearly implies that she was listening to the Intercepted podcast of March 22, 2017 , where Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill expressed skepticism about Russia actually b

The Basic Instinct of Socialism

This year I finally decided to stop beating around the bush and start calling myself a democratic socialist. I think the reason for the long hesitation is the very long record of horrifying atrocities carried out by self-described socialist countries. Of course, there is no social system that doesn't have a long, bloody rap sheet, capitalism very much included . But I've never described myself as a capitalist either, and the whole point of socialism is that it's supposed to be better than that. So of course I cannot be a tankie — Stalin and Mao were evil, terrible butchers, some of the worst people who ever lived. There are two basic lessons to be learned from the failures of Soviet and Chinese Communism, I think. One is that Marxism-Leninism is not a just or workable system. One cannot simply skip over capitalist development, and any socialist project must be democratic and preserve basic liberal freedoms. The second, perhaps more profound lesson, is that there is no s

Varanus albigularis albigularis

That is the Latin name for the white-throated monitor lizard , a large reptile native to southern Africa that can grow up to two meters long (see pictures of one at the Oakland Zoo here ). In Setswana, it's called a "gopane." I saw one of these in my village yesterday on the way back from my run. Some kids from school found it in the riverbed and tortured it to death, stabbing out its eyes, cutting off its tail, and gutting it which finally killed it. It seemed to be a female as there were a bunch of round white things I can only imagine were eggs amongst the guts. I only arrived after it was already dead, but they described what had happened with much hilarity and re-enactment. When I asked why they killed it, they said it was because it would eat their chickens and eggs, which is probably true, and because it sucks blood from people, which is completely ridiculous. It might bite a person, but not unless threatened. It seems roughly the same as killing wolves tha