Unlikely Aristotle

Book of the Week: The Crying of Lot 49 (Thomas Pynchon) | August 17, 2009

I should wait until I’ve actually finished reading this book to review it, but this isn’t exactly a review, more like a guide to help me understand this book myself.

Once upon a time, I thought I was smart. I thought I was smart, so I bought myself a mammoth of a book, also known as Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Against the Day’. I felt very cool and very hip, sitting there reading a Pynchon, thinking, ‘not everybody can just pick up one of these bad boys and get through it.’ And I was right. Not everyone, including myself.

It was so mind-boggling, overwhelming, and – a word very commonly used by Pynchon critics I noticed – dense, I had to put it down after a while. That’s the kind of book you need to sit down with in a silent, comfortable room without a single distraction, and just read.

Back to the Book.

I would suggest anyone wishing to tackle books written by Thomas Pynchon, a pioneer of postmodern literature (I still have to figure out what postmodern means, by the way), to start with this one. First, and I believe most importantly, it can’t be used as a substitute for a brick, like most of his other books. Believe me, this may sound like a superficial thing to say, but it’s not. His books are so difficult to follow, that anything past 200 pages and you can see cartoon-y birds flying around you, chirping. In the 75 pages that I’ve read so far (which is half the book, I feel smart again, yay!), there has been quite a lot to take in.

I actually like this about books. I don’t think it’s necessary to spin a yarn a mile long talking about the intricacies of the protagonist’s cousin’s surprisingly pointy left thumbnail. There’s a lot of meaning in every sentence. Apparently this is what the author is somewhat known for. Indeed, upon some light research, I found that several allusions to the Beatles and the whole ‘British Invasion’ have been touched upon in the book. I don’t like ruining this kind of thing for potential readers, it’s part of the fun.

So, let’s try to get to the plot.

The main character’s name is Oedipa Maas. Ok let’s pause for a minute again. Can I just say something here about how much I love the kooky names in this book? Her shrink is called Dr Hilarius! Back again.

She finds out that she has been named the executor for the will of her ex-boyfriend who has recently died. She travels to a (fictional, I believe) town of San Narciso, California, to fulfill his final wish, and soon finds herself drawn into a mystery regarding a mail company conspiracy. I haven’t really gotten to the thick of it yet, just the point where Oedipa starts to put the pieces together that there ‘might’ be some kind of conspiracy.

My review is mainly about Thomas Pynchon’s unique style. Of course, every writer has his own style, bla bla. But right now, reading this book, I’m confused. I have no point of reference, because I can honestly say I’ve never read anything with a style quite like this before. I mean, I can tell the element of satire is quite strong in it, but I always get the feeling that there are layers of metaphors just wooshing past me while I have noooo clue.

The book is mostly fast-paced, and yet at times, certain paragraphs seem to slow it down, but in a good way. Kind of like that much-copied Matrix scene when Neo is dodging bullets and there’s that really cool special effect which shows the scene in slow-motion. Here’s my favorite part so far:

“Oedipa nodded. She couldn’t stop watching his eyes. They were bright black, surrounded by an incredible network of lines, like a laboratory maze for studying intelligence in tears. They seemed to know what she wanted, even if she didn’t.”

I absolutely adore clever descriptions. I guess it’s because there’s nothing I loathe more than banality when describing a person’s features, which is so horrifically rampant in the literary world. It’s small snippets like these that make a big book worth reading, that separate the serious writers from the ‘trendy’ ones. You’ll notice that when I say trendy, I don’t usually mean it in a good way. Some trends are cool, but most, you might agree just piss me off. Like the whole tinted shades thing. I used to have every color in the sun. Why was I such a damn fool?

Read this book


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