Lee's Reviews > Gravity's Rainbow
by Thomas Pynchon
by Thomas Pynchon
Apr 16, 2011
Read from April 16 to May 22, 2011
A hose of prose -- relentless, uncompromising, uber-detailed, purposefully disorienting, godlike, puerile, silly, song-filled, wonky, wise, sexy, stupefying, audacious, ambitious to the point of OCD ADHD ickiness -- hooked to a thick rectangular pulp-based nozzle interface intended to excoriate at full-blast the reader's face off forever. "Central" thematic conflict is fate v. free will -- Pavlovian-type behaviorism v. something more than reaction to stimuli, in this case, arousal in advance of the rocket -- but there's also the conflict between the featureless blastulablob, ie, the semi-formless multi-tentacled octopus emitting streams of inky language, versus the perfect form of the arcing parabola of a rocket, of ejaculate, of one's life span, of life bursting out and transcending for a bit in a gorgeous arc while death's all around. At best, the thematic parabola pokes its gleaming porpoise curve out as it rides swift currents in a very unsettled Shark of Confusion–infested sea of A+ language. At worst, A+ language never freakin' stops screaming across the page, rarely slows, never settles, shifts in content but rarely in wholesale form -- leaving a reader to grasp for the life-raft of association among all the many apparently disconnected bits. So much sexiness sometimes comes off like it's studded throughout to string the reader along. Dozens of dog-earred pages (quotes to come) but no real LOLs. In general, I read 450+ pages carefully and then had to read more quickly after that since my time wasn't being rewarded as it had been especially after page 50 or so. That is, I wasn't into it / engaged / immersed / making many connections / appreciating the prose anymore. Once the rocket/orgasm conceit kicks in around pg 50, the book leaves its blast-off cloud of dust behind and ascends, then hangs in the Zone, then descends . . . I failed the descent section, essentially. Skimmed until I hit the end reading more or less as fast as I could. Sorry, T. Ruggles. I liked this one more than V. (which I quit on 200 pages in), less than Lot 49 (which I've read twice) . . . Worth it maybe to study it one day, but I don't have the patience or inclination these days. Some of the highest prosey peaks ever (philosophical expository jags and top-notch "keenly observed" descriptions of the natural world worth seven stars at least are maybe what make this the unfakeable canonical biggie that it is instead of just an artifact of late-'60s artistic self-indulgence/excess?), but its default flow seemed a bit too slow throughout, despite (because of?) top flight fanciful prose on every page. Goes to show that the towering literary artistry rainbow can't quite manage transcendence sustained over several hundreds of pages without a little more of the old fashioned flying buttress-like requirements of basic readerly orientation and sustained narrative interest (ie, sustained characters, something more of a sustained plot). For those wondering if it's worth the time it takes to read, I'd say, yes, sure, definitely, at least to be familiar with the first 200+ pages. It's more of an infinite book than Infinite Jest in that there's apparently so much more going on, so many asides, offshoots, wormholes, whatnot, plus I can always go back and more closely read the final 300 pages. Wholly unique. Reminded me of "Ulysses," "The Recognitions," and "Don Quixote" (might finish the second half of it this summer), especially when parodying film genres. Now to read a string of much shorter novels and story collections! Sakes alive! Bring on a Tobias Wolff father-son hunting story!
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