What I love most about Thomas Pynchon is that everything he writes revolves around stuffing everything he knows about life into one work. David Foster Wallace and Infinite Jest. Don DeLillo and Underworld. PT Anderson and magnolia. David Lynch and Inland Empire. For most creatives, this type of work is a one off. For Pynchon, it’s a recurring theme.
While being a Pynchon fan, I must admit that I haven’t been able to finish Gravity’s Rainbow (by about page 632, the book had exhausted me to the point that I didn’t read anything for another six months) and Against the Day (I simply got lost in the book somewhere and, after re-reading 200 pages trying to re-orient myself, got lost again. Basically, the book is really goddamn difficult.). I intend to start them over and finish them one day but they’re definitely a lot to handle.
Bleeding Edge is not that type of Pynchon. Bleeding Edge Pynchon is far more lucid with far fewer characters. Like with all of his works, you’re along for the ride. But, unlike the aforementioned where you’re usually just tear-assing from character to character and scene to scene, in this iteration of Pynchon you know where you’re headed, who’s driving, and who’s in the car with you. They do have this in common: You never quite get there. More than anything, Bleeding Edge is a companion piece to the Crying of Lot 49. They’re both about, as the tagline for Inland Empire says, “A Woman in Trouble.”
Pynchon stuffed all he knew about 9/11 and the dotcom crash and New York (this book almost exclusively takes place in one city which, against his other works, is really fucking weird) of the time into this book. It starts in the spring of ’01 and ends in the spring of ’02 in a fairly linear fashion (again, weird). Quite frankly, I had been led to believe that it ended in the moments leading up to the attack. If that were the case, he could’ve ended it with “A screaming comes across the sky.” Regardless, it winds up being that I really enjoyed what he had to say about the whole ordeal and living in Manhattan at the time and the way it affected people’s lives. If it had ended any other way, it would’ve felt off-putting and forced.
“But do you love it?” Isn’t that the eternal, burning, question. And, honestly, yes I did. It’s my second favorite book of Pynchon’s behind Vineland. Part of the reason why is that I was alive to witness and experience this whole period of time. Granted, I was only 12 or 13 but that’s old enough to know where I was when the towers fell (awoken by my mom, seeing it on her bedroom TV, being outright confused, having my hope shaken for the first time in my life) and cognizant of the fallout and conspiracies. That is to say, I understood a whole hell of a lot more of this book than I typically do of his works.
The setting and references were also the biggest thing holding me back from reading it. I was deeply worried it’d come off as an old man riffing on young culture. Instead, it’s Pynchon at his best. He touches on all the milestones and hits and media and oddities of the time. The protagonist, Maxine, has two young boys which allowed him to revel in it.