Thomas Pynchon - Gravity's Rainbow

Thomas Pynchon - Gravity's Rainbow
Rating - 10.0

Gravity's Rainbow.* Those two little words are enough to make even the most hardened of readers shake. There is a dullness to the eyes upon hearing Pynchon's name, an instantaneous reverie-inducing magic word of Kabbalah among the literary aware. Yet there are a few people, scattered amongst the ley lines of the world, a few here in Australia, a few more there in America, a handful in Europe, perhaps, maybe, two or three in China, I don't know: but they exist. Some people have read the book. Some people have even - gasp - re-read. And for these, Gravity's Rainbow is the Ultimate, the Absolute, the All.

Happily, as of the 23rd of January, 2005, I can count myself among the tiny but growing portion of people who have completed Gravity's Rainbow not once but twice. The first read through, it was a nightmare, a mish-mash of vivid, hyper-real images, of chaotic, disastrous encounters, of haphazard, unrealistic, unbelievable absurd and comic characters and situations, of sex, of drugs, of violence, of midgets, of plastics, of Rockets. It had everything, but I couldn't grasp the novel - what was it about? What was it trying to tell me? Why - why why why - was I forced to read countless diversions into African history, metaphysical ramblings about the sun, the Grid, the Gods, excursions into Pavlovian psychology, octopus attacks, sado-masochism, rocketry, physics, witchcraft, Nazi ideology, English sweets, American limericks, Japanese Haikus? The answer wasn't obvious, nor did I discover why, once the last page was finished. The why, the when, the where, and most importantly the how of the novel were not revealed.

But the second read through. Ahhh, wasn't that different. Familiar with the characters who were to play larger roles in the unfolding of the 00000, I was able to focus my energies to the right places, and 'merely' enjoy the rambunctious cavortings of the rest. I knew that trying to make sense of a man swimming about in a toilet looking for a harmonica wasn't integral to the story, so I could just enjoy enjoy enjoy - let the beauty of the words and the crazy wonder of the imagery fall over me. Brilliant, amazing sentences were mine to enjoy, to savour. And I did. Slothrop, Rocketman himself, I knew was to fade, and I could be with him until the Zone absorbed his ten thousand selves. Roger Mexico was mine until Jessica said goodbye. And maybe, if I was careful, I could get a glimpse of Byron the Bulb.

So. What is Gravity's Rainbow about? I suppose it is about a rocket. No, a Rocket. THE Rocket. The 00000. A-and, the Rocket is fired, an arrow to the heavens, where it falls, nobody knows. Tyrone wants to know, thought he doesn't know that just yet. Pointsman wants to know. So does Teddy Bloat, Katje, Tchitcherine, Enzian, Weissman, Duane Marvey, and of course, of COURSE They want to know. They want to know everything, They do.

Beyond that? Imagine every little scrap of history, mathematics, science, art, literature, social criticism and psychology rolled up into a little parcel, mixed about with a liberal dose of paranoid plot (see proverb 5), and sprinkled liberally - oh so liberally, five to a page, more! - amongst a 760 page book that arguable is all about a single rocket shooting into the air and falling to the ground.

(If I could, I'd insert a song here, but alas, my singing capabilities are a great deal lesser than my desire. Maybe next time through the Wheel)

The setting, ah yes, that fickle, meandering, evasive creature. WW2, sure, London, sure, the Zone, sure. But also Africa, Mauritius, Japan, Space, underground with the Titans, in the air with the custard pies, on the sea, dancing about with those midgets a-and over there, in the Grid, can't forget the Grid! We jump about, we jump here, we jump there, back and forth, around and around, in a sentence we jump, in a paragraph we jump, mid WORD we jump. But the thread is held together by the Rocket, that simple, phallic symbol we can all identify with, that we all want. It is ours, if we let it embrace us.

But really, what is it about? A Rocket, we've mentioned that. A critique on the social setting after the war? No, too superficially deep, if you catch my drift. They don't like that, no They don't. A love story between Mexico and Jessica? Can't be, that'd be silly. 500 pages between scenes hardly constitutes a love affair, but wait! the main character disappears in the Zone, so what can I say?

You like songs? So does Pynchon. You like mathematics? So does Pynchon. You like midgets, bondage, feces, sex, physics, chemistry, plastics, magic, history, psychology, mythology, foreign languages, conspiracies, Capital Letters, puns, narrator jokes, chorus lines, reefers, the word sez, recursion, coincidence, nightmares and girls? Yeah, so does Pynchon. Funny that. Open the book, pick a page, any page, doesn't matter which, you are bound to find at least half of those.

Sentences are so confident, so unbelievably aware of themselves as to strike awe. Any quote would be out of context, and thus meaningless. A .... serves to connect everything, it is all connected, all. Will Rocketman save us? He can't even save himself...

*For the more serious minded - I haven't summarised this novel. I can't, you can't, nobody can. I can't summarise Finnegans Wake, either. The novel is a journey through the idea of what literature could be if we just let ourselves go and write what is within us. Pynchon demolishes the concept of what a novel should be, he tears the towering edifice that began with Cervantes and ended with Joyce - even if only a temporary ending - and rebuilds it in his image. The modern novel owes as much to him as it does to any of the Great Authors, this novel is an amazing, incomparable epic of...of everything. Its scope is so vast, its range so sure, its breadth so detailed that...I can't even finish this sentence. An amazing achievement. A brilliant novel. A fundamentally essential author.

See Also

Against the Day




American Authors