Martine's Reviews > The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
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Mar 02, 08

bookshelves: postmodern, modern-fiction, north-american
Recommended for: conspiracy theorists
Read in January, 2005

I'm not sure how much I care for Thomas Pynchon's brand of postmodernism. On the one hand, The Crying of Lot 49 contains interesting ideas, culminating in a weird trip down Paranoia Lane. On the other hand, the writing is so detached and plain weird that it is hard to emotionally invest in the characters. As a novel of ideas, then, The Crying of Lot 49 has some merit; as a reading experience it's rather less rewarding. It feels like a 200-page story crammed into 127 pages, and that's not a compliment.

For what it's worth, the story is as follows. Oedipa Maas, a married lady living in 1960s California, is unexpectedly made executrix of her dead ex-boyfriend's estate. While carrying out her duties, she comes across strange goings-on which may or may not point to the existence of a secret postal service. The clues keep piling up. Are they mere coincidences or is there a sinister conspiracy afoot? And if even something as basic as post delivery is subject to a conspiracy, what else may be going on in society? Keen to find answers, Oedipa digs into the clues, only to get sucked into what is best described as a wild and obsessive brainstorm.

As I said, there are some interesting ideas going on here. Pynchon has a definite knack for mixing fact and fiction, to the point where you find yourself Googling things to see what is truth and what is fiction. He also quite successfully makes you buy into the conspiracy theory. Sadly, though, he's rather self-indulgent, blending good stuff with lengthy passages of dense, impenetrable prose that don't really seem to go anywhere. These passages do serve a purpose in that they make the reader as confused as Oedipa herself (a confusion further strengthened by the maddening open ending), but for all their paranoia-inducing quality, I wish Pynchon had taken more time to flesh out his story, to turn it into an actual novel with flesh-and-blood characters and emotions rather than an exercise in cleverness. In short, I wish the book had more pages. I didn't think I'd ever say that about a Pynchon novel, but here it's true: less is not always more. Alas.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Eduardo Taylor wouldnt it follow the modernist joycean tradition by doing exactly that hard and complex unsatisfying reading?


Michael Mullins Martine: you got more out of the book than I did and gave it one star more. I'm pretty sure Pynchon is on record as all but disowning this book. This is a sophomore effort and he acknowledges it as such. From a distance, we tend to view a great author's canon and think of everything as being on par with everything else, forgetting that these author's were young and had learning curves just like the rest of us.

Gravity's Rainbow, on the other hand, is sublime.


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