Against The Day is Thomas Pynchon's best book since Gravity's Rainbow. It takes place during the turn of the century in North America, Europe, and As...moreAgainst The Day is Thomas Pynchon's best book since Gravity's Rainbow. It takes place during the turn of the century in North America, Europe, and Asia with a large cast of characters including magicians, cowboys, miners, an airship crew, industrialists, mad scientists, gamblers, anarchists, secret societies, and spies among others. It's a very enjoyable read, although I did start to find it tedious around page 900, but it quickly became interesting again, and by the end of it, I even found myself wishing it was just a bit longer.
The heart of the story focuses on the family of Webb Traverse, an anarchist who dynamites railroads in protest of unfair working conditions. When he gets murdered, his sons Reef and Frank decide to avenge his death, which is complicated by the fact that their sister has married one of the hitmen and their younger brother Kit has accepted a college scholarship from the man who paid to have their father killed.
There are numerous detours along the way as the three brothers travel around the world and get swept up in history. We get to know the stories of several other characters whose paths crisscross so much it gets hard to keep track of them all.
Pynchon gives his readers a lot of credit, which is both flattering and frustrating. Those who already know something of history will enjoy the book more than those less well versed. For example, there's a bit at the beginning that is hilarious only if you know who Franz Ferdinand is. Pynchon includes other inside jokes that only make sense to the already initiated, such as a conversation between characters in El Paso that makes sly reference to the Marty Robbins song El Paso City. It would have gone over my head if I hadn't already been familiar with the song. I get the sense my cultural illiteracy caused me to miss out on a lot of other parts of the book.
The book is still enjoyable even if much of it goes over your head. Pynchon doesn't write typical historical fiction. His airship crew, for example, have a talking dog, fly through the center of the earth, come in contact with time travelers, and wind up in a parallel universe. When the rest of the novel gets in danger of becoming too weighty, he always returns to the crew of the Inconvenience to lighten things up a bit. His style of writing is so unique, that it's enjoyable to read even if you don't understand it.
Weighing in at over 1000 pages, Against The Day is certainly a commitment, but one well worth it.(less)
Crime and Punishmentpresents its readers with a mystery. Why did Raskolnikov kill the old pawn broker woman? Several explanations are offered. He's po...moreCrime and Punishmentpresents its readers with a mystery. Why did Raskolnikov kill the old pawn broker woman? Several explanations are offered. He's poor and he needed the money. He was temporarily insane. The Devil made him do it. Raskolnikov's mind is certainly muddled. On the one hand, he thinks killing her is actually a moral act in an ultra-utilitarian sort of way. Because she is an evil person who beats her sister and cheats her customers, the world would be a better place without her. Raskolnikov could then use the money she hoards to help the poor. He thinks he'd be saving dozens of lives by taking just one.
Additionally, he thinks of himself as the next Napoleon. When you kill one person, you're a murderer, but if you kill thousands you're a national hero. Rules, he reasons, are made for the commoners. Great men are above the law. This line of reasoning no doubt inspired the creation of Nietzsche's superman.
Raskolnikov also sees himself as a pawn of fate. He happens to learn that the pawnbroker hoards money. Then, by chance, he also learns that she'll be home alone at a certain time. He finds meaning in these coincidences and thinks it must be fate. He plans out how to kill her and goes through with it as if following a script. Other characters offer the opinion that crime is caused by the environment or a person's nature.
After actually committing the deed however, he finds that his abstract ideas clash with reality. Overwhelmed with guilt, he falls ill and goes around St. Petersburg in a delirious state talking to himself and returning to the scene of the crime. He almost gets caught several times, but evades suspicion with the help of coincidence and the fact that nobody can believe he'd actually commit murder.
Raskolnikov's character isn't very sympathetic. He's very irritable and treats his friends and family poorly. I found myself wanting him to get caught sooner. The psychologically talented police inspector Porfiry is a much more admirable character who seems to know Raskolnikov better than he knows himself. Dostoevsky's examination of philosophical ideas and psychological states is by no means a light read, but one well worth it.(less)