Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pynchon's CRYING OF LOT 49


Fresh off reading INHERENT VICE (which I'll write about in detail soon), I decided to go back and re-read the first of Thomas Pynchon's California-set novels. At first it felt a little odd to read a book I first read when I was in my last year of high school. That's 33 years ago, when I also read V and, soon after, GRAVITY'S RAINBOW.  Pynchon, an author who has influenced my entire view of the world, but of course many of the exact details of the books of his I read so long ago I don't recall. So it's as if I came to a second reading with Pynchon in my bones, but then had to rediscover the specifics of the surface. Verdict? Great again, unsurprisingly. And reading it on the heels of his "private eye novel" - INHERENT VICE - I saw LOT 49 more even than before as a definite (though not only of course) mystery novel. There's amateur sleuth Oedipa Maas moving through a hallucinatory Sixties landscape as she tries to uncover anything she can about a shadowy sinister organization called the Trystero. The entire novel follows the course of her improvised investigation. But whereas a typical detective novel at some point answers the different questions it raises, tying threads together, THE CRYING OF LOT 49 opens outward with more and more questions as it unfolds. By the end, Oedipa Maas doesn’t solve the mystery of the Trystero. She and the reader actually have more questions at the novel’s close than when it started. A great anti-detective novel, then, no question, LOT 49 is. Along with Paul Auster’s CITY OF GLASS trilogy, it has to stand as one of the models of that particular form. And I still don't think I've ever read a book that better exemplifies the Jorge Luis Borges dictum of how to effectively and beautifully end a story: "with the imminence of a revelation." (Needless to say, a revelation not produced. But that's the beauty of it.)    

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