I have a nasty habit, when it comes to these big books, of coasting downhill for the last hundred or so pages, and Gravity’s Rainbow was no exception. This was my second time through the book, and while I still left a whole lot of understanding on the table, I grokked a lot more this time around too. Still, though, the last few sections puzzle me. I don’t require tidy endings by any stretch of the imagination, and in some cases we actually get tidy endings (there can be no question of what ultimately happens to Gottfried), but Pynchon also just opens up so many weird little mystery boxes here at the end. I cite for your reference the colonel from Kenosha and Byron the bulb, for instance, and Richard M. Zhlubb. The bizarre Gross Suckling Conference. The return of Ludwig. The possibility that Jamf wasn’t in fact real. Several lapses into pastiche.
I suppose that as Slothrop is sort of diffused Orpheus-like across the Zone, so the narrative further fractures (you mean it could fracture further?), spinning out of control because god knows it’s a mad world, etc. But then Pynchon brings us back — albeit via another round of pastiche — to a very ordered conclusion, those lovely subsections detailing the clearing, the ascent, the descent.
And then he sort of yanks the rug back out from under us, or maybe it’s more like dropping a banana peel in our path. Follow the bouncing ball indeed. It’s just such a strange ending, mixing that old Slothropian hymn with a campy singalong vibe. I don’t know how to read the ending, whether I’m to understand the narrator to be sympathetic to the preterite or to be undercutting any sympathy with the zany mugging and cheerleading (or even whether that cheerleading is in fact a 1970s sincerity that I’m too jaded about the campy to interpret correctly, and that the cheerleading is in fact designed to be affirming).
I can’t begin to wring my thoughts together into a pat summary. The last time I read Gravity’s Rainbow, I characterized it (and Pynchon’s work in general) as being like nasty medicine — not so fun to swallow, but good for you. This time around, it was a good bit tastier. I’ll read the book again in a few years, though I may dip into Rilke first, as a familiarity with his Orphic sonnets turns out to be pretty critical to a thorough reading of Pynchon’s book. If you want to wrap up the read with a nice analysis of the relationships between the German poet and the American novelist, take a gander at this.
Thanks to all who played along, whether as post authors, commenters, or silent readers.
You may want to study up your Tarot and Kabbalah. (final post coming in a little bit).
suitable Doors music here.
You may also want to listen to a bunch of Firesign Theatre.
This is so frustrating. There is still so much to explore and there always seemed so little time. I must confess that, as the book progressed, I found myself reviewing earlier sections to make sense of the later ones. As a result I fell further behind and could only react to whatever was written. I’m about 1 week behind still (why do I continually recapitulate my undergraduate studies?)
I will probably go to some non-fiction after this. There’s a memoir of Kevin Mitnick that I’m dying to read, but I think I might try to carry on a re-read immediately in order to test out some ideas, especially Christine’s quest for narrative reliability.
That pesky narrator. If you figure anything out, please post it!
Narrators. There are at least 4 or 5 even if you don’t count the empathic narration. And even in the empathic naration not all of the thoghts are attributable to the given character. It’s a twisty set of mazes all different.
Thanks for being a great host yet again, Daryl.
So now that I’ve read it with a guide, I’m not sure I’ll read GR again. I enjoyed many sections of this read, but I think I find too much of it unsatisfying, and I don’t see additional reads helping with Part 4 much at all. It’s too steeped in arcana that ultimately I don’t find too interesting. However, I enjoy Pynchon enough that I still do intend to read Mason & Dixon one day.
On a final note, I just found this Wallace quote on Gravity’s Rainbow from the new Conversations with David Foster Wallace (the quote is from the full McCaffery interview):
“The only time I’ve seen anybody… really show us where a transcendence might lead is Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow… paranoia is a natural response to solipsism, all right, but Pynchon’s transcendence is, boy, is a lot like like Milton’s Satan. You realize the problem and you rally what remains. Damn it, if I’m alone and metaphysical structures are primary threatening and I am paranoid, then paranoia is a central metaphor, damn it, I’m going to make this as beautifully ordered and complex as I can… but anyway, I’ve lost a lot of my interest in Pynchon because it seems to me that there’s a different way to transcend it. That instead of a satanic way of transcending it, there’s an angelic way of transcending it and for me — again I can’t be articulate about this — it somehow has to do with where the click is.”
In another interview, Wallace mentions liking 25% of Pynchon. For me, I think that I do get that click with Pynchon, but in an inversion of Wallace maybe about 75% of the time. (Even after a re-read.) But when it does click, oboy oboy, it clicks oh so good.
Waaaaaiiiiiiitttttt! I’m not done yet! This can’t be the end!
I didn’t read this post (or last week’s) because I’m not caught up. Best intentions, life, moments caught between things lend themselves to Twitter rather than Pynchon, blah blah blah. Will finish asap, read your posts, comment, post…and do it all by tomorrow.
(I just saw mcarbone’s “oboy oboy” and I’m going to miss this group read. When it’s over. Which it’s not.)
It’s not over until the fat pig sings!
This seems like as good a place as any to write this, Has anyone not read any other Pynchon? And does reading this make you want to read more? I have had V. on my bookshelf for years and almost in a trance I pulled it off the shelf last night thinking I might start reading it.
In many ways I found _V_ a better read that _GR_. The characters are lighter and there is a parallel plot line that is much more coherant that _GR_. I do think that _GR_ is a more interesting book in that it feels like after a few readings there is still more to understand. _V_ has its mysteries, but they feel more contained and accessible, and if you feel you’re missing meaning, you know it. It won’t come out of a chance interaction with some blog that says, “Look at this” and suddenly whole new meanings emerge.
I’ve read all the novels but Mason & Dixon, and that one I got partway through before abandoning more because something else came up than because I wasn’t enjoying it. V was the first Pynchon I finished (well, maybe I got to the short 49 first), and I didn’t like it a lot but could see that it was capital-G Good. My reaction to GR when I finally got to it was much the same.
If you haven’t read Crying of Lot 49, then I suggest you get into a time machine, go back a few months, and read it before you read Gravity’s Rainbow, because it is the ideal gateway. If that’s not possible due to financial constraints, then now would also do fine. It’s fantastic, and almost all “good” Pynchon.
If you have Slow Learner laying around, pick it up and read the last (and best) story, “The Secret Integration.” You’ll learn a lot more about Mingeborough along the way. Oh, and then read Pynchon’s Introduction to get a glimpse inside his surprisingly humble mind.
Vineland has excellent moments, but gets pretty zany. It has the honor of being the most recently set (1984) of all of his works, and has a nice feel for Northern California.
I find Against the Day to be underrated among his works. It’s the most similar in scope (of those that I’ve read) to Gravity’s Rainbow, but is rarely confusing. It ends in a beautiful and refreshingly sentimental way. And, unlike with many of GR’s early 70’s references, I was able to pick up the subtle and not-so-subtle references to things like Tetris and anime. (I wrote about Against the Day back when I had an active blog, here: http://crazymonk.org/archives/2007_02_18/786)
Lastly, Inherent Vice, the one I read most recently before GR, and the one I remember the least. I found it somewhat dull, but it had some beautiful prose when it got to describing L.A. It also tread a little too much ground that Big Lebowski already covered. Which is why I’m curious about Paul Thomas Anderson’s upcoming adaptation of it, if that’s still in the works. If anyone can make a great film that covers similar ground to the Big Lebowski but isn’t ripping off the Big Lebowski, it’s Anderson.
V. and M&D are still in my to-read pile. Next year, maybe.
I agree with your assessments of AtD and IV. Vineland for me was mostly a snoozer, or maybe not so much a snoozer as a labor not worth the payoff. I’ve got Slow Learner but haven’t read it all, and it’s been long enough since I read 49 that I can’t really comment intelligently.