Danica's Reviews > Gravity's Rainbow

Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
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Apr 29, 08

Recommended to Danica by: Brad Neely
Recommended for: anyone who can read
Read in March, 2004

i will put the review i wrote of this after reading it, that has been lying unused in my journal since then, in here, when i'm not supposed to be working out.


and here it is!!!!! i just got back from running, ha ha... perfect... this is dated summer 2004:

"As a reborn lover of books, there has been an ongoing rediscovery of "literature" and it's implications in my life recently. A precocious student early-on, I was hungry for knowledge and read everything I could get my hands on. I have read the high-school caonon of novels and stories--sought out Fitzgerald at Kafka at the age of 12 and wowed English teachers with my deconstructions of the Bronte's and Joyce. However, although subculture was present in other aspects of my life-most notably music-for some reason I found it difficult find the intersection where the past met the future of writing.
Enter Infinite Jest. I began noticing it, massive and orange, on the shelves of friends who I looked up to most. Upon research, I discovered D.F. Wallace to be the reigning "kid genius" of popular fiction and also that none of my acquaintances had finished the book. So, I decided to finish it. It was a dizzying novel-spectacular in its breadth-highly entertaining at times and sometimes just as intensely boring. But I got through it. And I was hungry for more. A co-worker of mine told me if I wanted another big, challenging book, I should read Gravity's Rainbow. I was somewhat familiar with Pynchon at this point because of The Crying of Lot 49, Vineland, and some short stories. I understood him to be a man who enjoyed confusing readers who might not be engaged enough. He enjoyed complex plots and mystifying explanations. He enjoyed the underworld and silliness. He created the unending probability of the certain impossible actually happening and absurdly named characters who actually expected it.
In The Crying of Lot 49 as well as, say, Infinite Jest, I had encountered in various passages a cockiness I was wary of. It consisted of a self-awareness with a kinship to the purposeful zaniness of things but left something lacking. I was struck by this decorative zaniness because it bore not real significance on the plot or inherent mood of the story. So far, none of Pynchon's nonsense songs had worked their magic on me. In David Foster Wallace, I forgave it by the end of the book because all of the pieces ended up fitting together, and anyone who even slightly enjoys post-modernism likes to be fucked with. That's what entertainment is all about. Still, a few months later, I wonder how much of Infinite Jest I have forgotten and whether it really matters. Do I really need to know about the extensive catalogue of tattoos of the halfway-house inmates?
For the first time, with Gravity's Rainbow, I was thoroughly delighted by these little games. More importantly, I feel that they served as a foundation for the gorgeously dark, terrifying, and whimsical world that Pynchon's characters inhabit.
The book revolves around the misadventures of Tyrone Slothrop, a United States soldier in England at the end of WWII. Inexplicably, and presumably because of a connection between his amorous conquests and the pattern of bombs falling on London, he is kidnapped and his identity is erased. He spends the remainder of the novel trying to solve the mystery of the rocket that he is connected to and searching for his freedom. He encounters spies, merchants, warriors, and magicians as he wanders the wastes of post-war Europe through the spring of 1945.
This book, to me, was all about identity. Slothrop's identity is stolen and becomes a commodity and a legend. He is inextricably connected to the tests that programmed him to interact in the way that he does with the opposite sex and, therefore, the war. The book, though whimsical, is a tragedy. Slothrop disappears in the end-unable to assert himself over the machine that has made him who he is. Of course this is a novel only-a fake conspiracy theory for the enjoyment of the authro and readers. But to me it rang true because I often question how big of a role the individual does have in society, war-torn or not. It is easy to feel a certain joyful emptiness when I am surrounded by strangers on a subway train hurling through the dark. There is another less joyful loss of identity I feel upon financial problems, or dealing with red tape of any kind for that matter. This is more of a feeling of dread of the future being nothing but owing something to someone else, of being a number, of not having a voice or face because I am less powerful than most people. I would like to hope that power is something that doesn't overlook the intelligent or self-motivated, and that each person has the right to self-determination. Slothrop, though, didn't. Or rather, his rights changed so much that the only option for him to remain in control of himself was to disappear completely.
Is a man really a man without an audience? Once he falls off the face of the earth, goes into the wild, does nothing of "importance", does he exist or is he just another animal? This is assuming that man and animal are separate to begin with, an assumption I choose to make. Men left on desert islands have told their stories, but what if Robinson Crusoe hadn't refound civilization?
It is a simple thing to think about. Really, the story of Slothrop is the story of anyone. We humans tend to bumble through our lives, sometimes blandly and innocently unaware that anything is wrong, other times struggling to piece things together. However, I feel that this book affected me so much because the lush cacophany that Pynchon surrounds Slothrop with is none of the tried-on wackiness of other post-modern fiction but rather a symbolic representation of the world as it is. I do not expect to be fighting Pavlovian octopi or sneaking around parties disguised as a pig any time in the near future, but the fact that Slothrop did shows that each human is up against the same odds. In one way this tale is all about the excesses and frivolities of a world where people have enough money or corruption to manipulate the lives of other mortals. In another sense it is about the indiviual as the person inside the body: the unexplained journey and then the disappearance at the end. For the purposes of the story slothrop may have died when he vanished, but it doesn't really matter. In giving up navigation of the powers that be, we will also die. The story will end. It may seem natural, but it is really a choice to fight, to disguise oneself, to not stop.
Pynchon succeeded in telling the story of the individual without sacrificing the absurdity that marks the vagueness of what being a human actually is. Fitzgerald may have told me, when I was 12, that we don't get what we want (and I believed for a long time after that, that tragedy was the most I could hope for in my own narrative... at least it would be interesting). I had been trying to suppress any goofiness for so long and had been looking for the remote picturesquenss of melancholy in such a way that, when I encountered the wildness of Gravity's Rainbow, I rejoiced. I saw that in art and life the unexplainable, the low, the poor and destitute and directionless,the empty ones with looming dark futures are most likely to win, or stay on the map at least, if they succumb to the amazing and question-filled moments, as Slothrop would, to a party of strangers where someone might have the answer.
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