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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.
Literary reviews are hard for me. I’ve never taken a stab at one and it seems like there’s so much ground to cover when discussing any novel.
But I’m gonna try because I’m wide awake and pissed right now after finishing the Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber.
I’ll admit that I went into this book without any prior knowledge beyond the fact that he had written Under the Skin, a book which I haven’t read and a film which I’ve heard great things about. As a result, and of the expectancy wrought by the critical praise adorning the novel, I expected a life-altering experience soon to be followed by a killer film adaptation.
And yet I wound up with 500 pages of anti-climax. Everything just kind of swam along until there was a speed bump, then it kept swimming, then it ended. It was kinda like the Poisonwood Bible in space, except driven by anthropological generalizations and paraphrased platitudes instead of in-close & personal intimations.
I dunno, I’m just mad at the book for not delivering the goods. It kept feeling like there was a great big secret waiting to be revealed yet it seemed as if the characters’s weren’t in the on the answer either. Their knowledge of all things, as with the reader’s, only expanded to the edge of the page. Instead of a big reveal or a third act redemption, there was Just plot point upon plot point until certainly it was time for the pastor to let his flock lead itself.
The central selling point of the book–the pastor’s relationship with his wife on Earth millions of miles away–seems to climax at a nihilistic proclamation of faith. Since she’s only speaking through written word (demarcated by a sans-serif font to denote “this is totally on a computer screen”), we are as far as the pastor is from her words. Except there’s no prior context to it for the reader: the only episode we have of his wife is brief before his leaving of Earth. We need fucking more.
Perhaps that’s all this book lacks, is more. More to be frustrated at, maybe, but more to make it feel like a fully realized idea. It arcs as a complete story while maintaining a first-act expository tone throughout the proceedings and, as a result, ends with exasperation. I never felt the story move; it was as barren and flat as the alien land it inhabits.
So maybe that’s the whole point? That the book is supposed to reflect the mission? That’s probably it. But in its state, I read and read and read like I was going on a long distance drive only to wind up not at my destination but right before it.
This review feels incomplete, but I can’t quite find the words to verse what else I felt about the book. It prickled my faith, but not enough to make me pick up a Bible or go to church. It just is and is and is, like God too I guess.