Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Pynchon’

Bleeding edgeWhere to begin?  OK, here’ll do, character talking ’bout a website a suspicious outfit called hashlingers has designed for them:

“Oh, don’t tell me, tag soup, right, lame-ass banners all over the place random as the stall walls in a high-school toilet? All jammed together? Finding anything, after a while it hurts your eyes? Pop ups! Don’t get me started. ‘window open,’ most pernicious piece of Javascript ever written, pop-ups are the l’il goombas of Web design, need to be stomped down to where they came from, boring duty but somebody’s got to.”

It’s that “most pernicious piece of Javascript ever written” that is pure Pynchon.  That I had to look up ‘goombas’ is a part of it too.  Turns out they are “a fictional species of sentient mushrooms from Nintendo’s Mario franchise.”  I do not resent this, that I had to look that up.  I didn’t have to look it up, could’ve survived without it, but I’m glad I did, added value.  The thing about reading Thomas Pynchon is, he’s fun.  Sure he’s got this huge reputation, wrote a monster of a novel called Gravity’s rainbow back in the ’70s that had serious critical kudos heaped all over it, such that practically every review of every book he’s written since has said “it’s no Gravity’s rainbow” cos it’s not as somehow serious or profound.  But the thing is, difficult though it was at times, formidable in scope and prospect as it was, Gravity’s rainbow was a lot of fun too.  And he’s on our side.

John Berger Gthomas-pynchon-V-1964-Bantam-mass-marketBrief 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


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Inherent vice

A-and I’ve been reading ‘at Thomas Pynchon again.  The new novel, ‘Inherent vice‘ (Cape, 2009) is his shortest for a decade or two and I think I’ve seen the phrase Pynchon-lite used in at least one review but it gets dark enough on the way through, though this time it’s not a geographically global  canvas he’s working on.  Think Philip Marlowe meets the Furry Freak Brothers & Robert Crumb in a Chinatown with a surfing beach and a surfadelic soundtrack, set in a Manson trial era L.A., after the gold rush indeed.  Highly enjoyable, the usual mix in fact of him frequently going off on one – a kind of chasing the moment active meditative state – mixed with sharp dialogue, high farce and low humour rubbing shoulders with an enormous wit and wisdom.  Still one of the originals.

And so is Jackie Leven, who we saw in the smaller room at The Stables on Thursday.  I’ve been searching for a link here with Pynchon and have stumbled upon two.  To whit, the term ‘inherent vice’ comes, so Pynchon says, from the world of marine insurance, which is just the sort of poetic shift of context that Leven often uses in his songwriting.  And actually, with Leven’s biography he could have sprung fully fledged from the pages of a Pynchon novel, with walk on parts for Laurence Olivier, the Dalai Lama’s bodyguard, that Princess Diana,  Robert ‘Iron John’ Bly and fellow Fifers Ian Rankin and George Brown to name but a few.

I’ve probably seen Jackie in performance as much as I’ve seen anyone, even Ray Davies, and he never disappoints – a true troubadour.  For those who don’t know him – and his work really does deserve much wider appreciation – he’s big man with a gentle manner, a performer with a quality catalogue of songs of real poetry and emotional power, which he delivers with an open chested baritone sliding into and out of some fine melodic mumblings and bouts of throat singing.  Oh, and did I say he’s also a stunning guitarist and a raconteur of some class?   The workout he gave ‘Elegy for Johnny Cash‘ on Thursday transformed the song from a track, albeit the title track, I often skip on CD into a riveting journey.  But there were plenty of other highlights – ‘The urban ravens’, his moving and yet joyful elegy for Kevin Coyne, with its ‘brown bread’ story coda, a seemingly impromptu ‘Can’t help falling in love’ – in fact most of the show.

And how great it is for him to consistently stick with the ‘no encore’ policy.  He builds to no great climax – it’s an evening together, the songs are full of climax and anti-climax – he announces the last song he’s doing as his last song, explains his dislike of the artificial idea of the encore as is currently the industry norm – “What am I going to do? – just go over there and come back again?”  And out we go into the dark night, warmed, wary and charmed.

Oh, and I feel an urge to share this linguistic gem:  we’re having to have some work done on the house – gutters, facia, soffits, that sort of thing.  On the manifest, the description ‘rainwater goods’.

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