likely no review to come here as reading seems to've taken a surmounting lead, prioritistically speaking, over trying to put into words feelings about...morelikely no review to come here as reading seems to've taken a surmounting lead, prioritistically speaking, over trying to put into words feelings about something made out of words already, & words that make my words feel like grunts. i will say this. i started vineland a few times--as pretty much most pynchon--w/o success, & over the yrs my assumptions about the follow-up, w/ 17 yrs b/w, of what i consider to be the greatest novel of the 20th century, skewed toward the heavy majority--that vineland was first considered the end of pynchon (something like scorsese's new york, new york), & then, after the appearance of mason & dixon & against the day, simply a low anomaly in his freshly invigorated pantheon. mason & dixon & against the day are now the last two remaining pynchon's for me to read, so i feel just slightly qualified to offer this opinion on vineland: it is a completely fucking extraordinary book, containing a heretofore previously & occasionally attempted, but unperfected, love for the characters that i don't even know if pynchon intended to be there. sure, there is a pervasive gloom of paranoia holding the book together like woodglue, but the characters, heroes, foils & villains alike, are the most sympathetic gathering of folks in anything i've ever read by him, except for maybe the short story the secret integration, which is about kids & was written when he was in his early 20's.
also: reading bleeding edge just previously to vineland, i could not help but notice two very specific things & many, many stylistic echoes that make the two seem to be sister books. the first specific thing, which i believe is a device he uses in other books as well, but never so prevalent as in these two, are the constant, & hilarious, mention of biopics, w/ an actor & a subject selected, seemingly for their incongruities. they are short, some might say easy jokes, particularly for a writer like pynchon, but where & the way he interjects them always add context to the writing before & after it. my two favorite in vineland are john ritter in the bryant gumbel story & pee-wee herman in the robert musil story. the other obvious, though not as simply pointed out, similarity in the two books is pynchon's treatment of women. it is not a departure on the whole, as one of the things i've always admired about pynchon is his ability to mine the ever-so-fertile differences b/w women & men, but never treating them both as more-or-less human, i.e. the women are as evil or, though rarely, as good as any of the men, a complex & ambiguous equality that i don't hear mentioned enough. the women in all his books are their own guardians of their sexual freedom & w/o judgement, from the writer at least. sometimes what emerges is as dark as it gets, but never not counterbalanced--or counterobliterated--by the men. what is different in bleeding edge & vineland is that, maybe not completely, but way more than is usual in his other books, they outnumber the men in importance, depth (not the writing, but the choices he makes in focusing on), &, well, sheer numbers. vineland, more than bleeding edge, at times even comes across to me it not one all by itself, at least thomas pychon's closest approximation of a feminist novel (if a feminist novel can be written by a man). i began to get the same feeling when i was reading 2666, that the massive sprawling plot(s) & long introspective stories were exquisite window dressing for what essentially was a novel (or 5) about the indignities man has for yrs subjected women to. vineland is less that, but more focused on the individual complexities of the women throughout the book. that said, i'm a dood, so maybe that's why it seems to stand out so much to me.
guess this sorta turned into a review after all, kinda, so i guess i feel the need to conclude it in some way. two of, at the most, my five favorite writers are thomas pynchon & donald barthelme. in the last six months i've read books by the two of them that are considered to be of lesser quality than the rest of their oeuvre. w/ don b., it was his final book, the slim novel the king. in both cases i was ever so pleasantly surprised that i was surprised in the first place that both books are works of genius, detours, if only slightly, from each writer's normal tread. in the case of vineland, it has both deepened suspicions i held for pynchon's writing for awhile, while also causing me to recalibrate completely the lens i view his work through.
in other words, pynchon sorta resembles what the late, great dj john peel said about my favorite band the fall: "always different, always the same."(less)