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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Crying of Lot 49

Crying of Lot 49
by Thomas Pynchon
(4 stars)

I'd always stayed away from Pynchon's novels because A) They are longer than the average Harry Potter book and B) They sound bizarre. "The Crying of Lot 49" then was a good way to get my feet wet because at least it was only 150 pages. Somehow I'm sure it's just as bizarre as his other novels. And yet for as strange as it was, it was a compelling novel that kept me reading right through to the end.

The story is about Oedipa Maas, a young suburban housewife with a DJ husband nicknamed "Mucho" at the local rock n' roll station in Kinneret, California. She receives a letter from the estate of a former flame named Pierce, a billionaire with his hands in all sorts of pots. Oedipa has been named an executor and so travels San Narcisco, where she meets the lawyer Metzger, once a child actor named Baby Igor.

This leads to an affair, which would have been where most novels would stop, but the affair is only the tip of the iceberg here. In looking over some of Pierce's properties like the weapons manufacturer Yoyodyne, Oedipa starts to see a muted post horn everywhere--on a restroom wall, on Pierce's stamps, on a Yoyodyne engineer's notepad--and becomes convinced after watching a rather gory play that there's a secret postal system known as Tristero that has been operating in Europe and the US for 400 years. Her search for answers causes her to delve deeper into madness. A trip back home finds her husband and shrink hooked on LSD, the latter taking her hostage when police find out he worked with the Nazis at a concentration camp.

In the end we're left with questions instead of answers, which is a little irritating. But in a novel that seems to be about the breakdown of reality and communication, what do you expect?

This novel was published in 1965 and really was prophetic about the turmoil upcoming as the Vietnam War escalated and rampant drug use--including LSD--caused most of a generation to lose touch with reality.

I couldn't help thinking that if I knew more about science like entropy and thermal dynamics and if I had been born before 1964 I would have understood more of the satire and wit employed here. That's the risk you take in writing a satire, though.

At any rate, this book was fascinating in spite--or because of--all its strangeness. If you're looking to take a good trip without the aid of chemical enhancement, here you go.

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