Dan's Reviews > Mason & Dixon

Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
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Dec 29, 09

bookshelves: novels
Read in July, 1998, read count: 2

A novel about the surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, after whom the Mason-Dixon line between the states of Pennsylvania and Maryland is named. Pynchon traces the emergence of modern America to the pre-Revolutionary years of the mid 1700s (the Age of Reason, foax!) In some passages, it is a particularly contemporary America he traces; for instance, he suggests that concepts like designer coffee were around even as early as when George Washington was still only a colonel. Like Gravity's Rainbow, which employs rocket science as a structural device, and The Crying of Lot 49, which employs the concept of entropy, Mason & Dixon is structured around scientific concepts, in this instance astronomy and geometry. In addition, like other Pynchon novels, dominant themes include colonialism and conspiracy. However, there are significant differences between this novel and Pynchon’s earlier work. For instance, the characters, particularly the title characters, are developed and represented realistically. Most frequently, the latter are shown bickering, but it is clear that underneath their disagreements, they are friends. Stylistically the novel is a pastiche of the writing of colonial America. In some instances, this is reflected in the complexity and length of the sentences. However, the archaic spellings, forms of diction and historic references do not get in the way of the “Joaks,” of which there are many. Comic passages include a talking dog and a near-fatal encounter with a giant cheese (in addition to astronomic humor, there is a lot of gastronomic humor). As in other of his novels, Pynchon exaggerates or distorts historic fact for comic effect. In addition, in some instances he represents things that will seem to most readers as if Pynchon made them up, but that actually happened.
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