Brief tangent: Pynchon’s hugely enjoyable first novel – with one foot in the Beat generation – before Gravity’s rainbow, was simply called V. I’ve had this theory from the off that he wanted to call its successor simply G but was beaten to the punch by John Berger’s Booker winning novel appropriating said initial. John Berger’s G (1972) is celebrated these days more for his winner’s speech slagging off the sponsor for its past and present colonial sins, though I seem to recall reading it and being impressed (not that I can remember much more about it).
Bleeding edge (Cape, 2013) opens in New York, spring 2001, and pretty much stays there for the duration. It deals with the growth of the internet, the first dot.com bubble, late capitalism and 9.11, and entertains without espousing conspiracy theories – paranoia is ever one of Pynchon’s basic narrative drivers – about the latter. It has been called a technothriller though Wikipedia gives it ‘postmodern detective’ status but parenting, friendship and the chaos of personal lives in the modern city are very much in the frame throughout – there are people here you really want things to work out for OK. Bleeding edge deals in ‘meatspace‘ and “all forms of reality in which the basic unit is the pixel”. What in other of his books have been trips into shamanism, mysticism even, is here represented as the Deep Web of cyberspace – William Gibson territory: “It’s only code …” is a saving mantra.
Our heroine – yup – is Maxine, mum and head of Tail ‘Em and Nail ‘Em, a detective agency specializing in fraud investigations – in a certain demand because she’s debarred from the professional organisation. We’re taken through her pursuit of a well dodgy and mysterious industry leader, which involves various security and counter-intelligence organisations and free agents. Without giving too much away – it’s a Pynchon trait – things remain more or less unresolved. In the middle of this 9.11 happens, and what really impresses is the low-key way in which it’s dealt with – no grand statements, purple prose or disaster movie scenarios, none of the main characters are directly involved; there’s just the hush afterwards and the practical private consequences:
They gaze at each other for a while, down here on the barroom floor of history, feeling sucker punched, no clear way to get up and on with a day which is suddenly full of holes – family, friends, friends of friends, phone numbers on the Rolodex, just not there anymore … the bleak feeling, some mornings that the country itself may not be there anymore, but being silently replaced screen by screen with something else …
The book starts with Maxine taking her kids to school and it ends with them in the late autumn telling her they’re OK to go on their own and she, knowing this, is not quite ready for it. I think I’ll leave it at that. Tremendously lively book to come from a 76 year old. The rhythms of his vernacular prose and sparkling dialogue still there in abundance, his predilection to just ‘go off on one’ excitingly intact, a vivid and varied populace of entertaining characters set in play. Tremendous invigorating book, period.
Just a few snippets to give a taste, whet the appetite if you’re unsure whether to take the plunge:
- in the matter of ‘duck stamps’: “… having wandered with the years into the seductive wetlands of philatelic zealotry, this by-now-shameless completist must have them all” (p14)
- Scanning Justin and Lucas for spiritual malware, Maxine, whose acquaintance with geekspace, since the tech boom, had grown extensive though nowhere near complete, discovered that even by the relaxed definitions of the time, the partners checked out as legit, maybe even innocent. It could’ve been California, where the real nerds are supposed to come from, while all you ever see on this coast is people in suits monitoring what works and what doesn’t and trying to copy the last hot idea. (p78)
- Lester Traipse is square-rimmed and compact, uses some drugstore brand of hair gel, talks like Kermit the Frog. The big surprise is his wing-man tonight. Last seen stepping out […] into what Montreal calls “feeble snow” and the rest of the world a raging blizzard, Felix Boingueaux tonight is sporting a strange do, which is either a triple-digit power haircut, carefully designed to lull observers into false complacency with their own appearance till it’s too late, or else he cut it himself and fucked up. (p150)
- “No, I mean late capitalism is a pyramid racket on a global scale, the kind of pyramid you do human sacrifices up on top of, meanwhile getting the suckers to believe it’s all gonna go on forever.” (p163)
- Maxine rewinds, ejects, and, returning to realworld television programming, begins idly to channel surf. A form of meditating. (p180)
- as per usual, Pynchon’s joyously dropping popular culture references all over the place:
“So Maxine, is there an issue here?”
“You mean,” switching to loyal sidekick, “as in ‘Bird dog’ by the Everly Brothers, well, as far as I know, Conkling is nobody’s quail at the moment, and besides you only poach husbands, isn’t that right, Heidi.”
I could go on but I think I’ll finish with Horst, Maxine’s husband’s obsession with bio-movies and one of the characters using the word ‘footnotes‘ as an active verb.
Now all I’ve got to do to complete the Pynchon set is read that thousand pages plus Against the day …