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Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

A masterwork and a cornerstone.

“Too bloody sixties”, say some. Do they also criticise 18th-century novels for being about horse carriages and evening balls?
“Too bloody convoluted”, say others. Maybe it’s just me having (had to) read Henry James over breakfast at 26, but Pynchon, especially this one, doesn’t seem complicated to me at all. Ok, maybe a little bit.
But then there’s an entire wiki on this novel, with all the references you may need and quite a few you won’t: there.
And in the unlikely case you happen to be a literary critic nut like Yours Truly, you may want to w.a.s.t.e. your time on something on the line of A Companion to The Crying of Lot 49, written by J. Kerry Grant.

True, there are many references to the culture of the decade, often brilliantly done. And my guess is he didn’t get this topical on any other novel (I later discovered he actually did). Take The Scope: a bar with an “electronic music only” policy. In 1964?! I mean this is even before Kraftwerk. And did you know that this here is the first use ever of the term “shrink” in a work of fiction? And the list goes on and on.
Besides, I think that filtering all this through Oedipa, the Young Republican who lives in southern California, is a great stroke, especially given Pynchon’s own political penchant.

True, the novel is very complex, and more often than not you’ll find it biting its own tail. It was done on purpose. It can be argued that we don’t need violent fiction in a time of violence and we don’t necessarily need complicated fiction in a complicated era, but I think that we do need melting clocks and burning giraffes, we do need new cultural references that will allow us to think critically about our own time.
Besides, the narrative goes through various moods. Chapter 2 is really one of the funniest things I’ve read in awhile, while the second half of the novel (meaning ch. 5 & 6, as the chapters get longer increasingly) becomes dark, unsettling, scary. Just as The Courier’s Play, the play-within-the-play, does toward its end: in both cases the mood changes because of the Trystero’s ominous presence/absence.

Thomas Pynchon
The Crying of Lot 49 (1967)
pp. 160, $13
Harper Collins, 2006

Giudizio: 5/5.

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