Stephen M's Reviews > The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
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Jun 20, 12

bookshelves: i-dont-even, mentions-mitchell, too-mass-pin-cushion
Recommended to Stephen M by: marchin' thru the Pynchon battlefield
Recommended for: A hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning
Read in May, 2012

The first and only time that I read Hamlet was in my High School AP english class. The teacher, being by far the best english teacher that I’ve had throughout my oh so illustrious english career, was a wonderfully animated and intelligent fellow. For our reading of the Oresteia, he drew stick figures on the board, highlighting with screaming delight the furious eyebrows of Clytemnestra. Every class was a surefire combination of zaniness and intelligence that I came to love from one day to the next. Although his antics could (and should) be retold in much more depth than here, it is perhaps the subject for another review. But somewhat tangentially relevant to the book in question, his insights into the play were some of the most profound that I’ve heard and most certainly kept me from tossing my copy out the window. One of most intriguing moments of the class came during the famous ‘play within the play’ part of Hamlet, where Hamlet puts on a play to show the king that he knows what had really happened to Hamlet’s father. Although our teacher outlined the importance of the scene and the role it served, when the audiobook got around to the dialogue of that meta-play, our teacher held up a flapping hand, speaking loudly over the recording telling us that there was no need to pay attention to this scene, as it was literal gibberish nonsense, its meaning so obfuscated so as not to even be bothered to be given any thought. This came in the middle of an intense dissection of the play, no verse had been left unanalyzed, no word untouched by the scrutiny of close reading and informed discussion. I found it to be quite funny and especially refreshing to have an entire section of a play written-off by an english teacher as nonsensical. But even more than that, I found it profoundly intriguing. Shakespeare, being as dense and difficult as it is, when descending into a deeper level in the play—the play within the play—becomes that much more difficult to understand, as if the further from reality one gets into its fictional universe, the more tangled and confused it becomes. The meta layers of literature twist meaning and significance the deeper it gets. I have since found this Inception-like increase in difficulty in a few other stories of meta-fictive delight. As were the meta-tales of Goatwriter in Number9dream, I found the play within the book, The Crying of Lot 49 to be completely divorced from comprehension. As evidenced by the fact that I can’t recall a single bit of the play now, I have never felt like such a sloppy reading idiot while navigating the threads of this thing.

It is, of course, the point of the book and despite being aware of it from the get go, I can’t bring myself to love the book. I will say that the first chapter is brilliant, among the top all time opening chapters. And I was with the story then, despite it being slightly demanding, I breezed through it with an air of self-gratification, quite pleased with my progress. Perhaps this speaks to Pynchon’s genius, but I felt lulled into a sense of false security by my understanding of the opening pages. That beginning promises a roaring good book, equal parts entertaining and profound but most of all, a book that has meaning. Alas, no book was delivered. I was reading pleasantly, assured of my own understanding, as I said, when a hairspray can begins flying around the room of the Pynchon-verse for an extended period of time, shooting off at improbable angles for much longer than anyone is comfortable reading. The what-the-fuck-is-happening-right-now alarm began to warm up. And as I plunged further through the book, it didn’t get any better at all. My incredulity and my anxiety over missing important details mounted. Among all the loose threads of Tristero and W.A.S.T.E. that the protagonist herself is trying to make sense of, I saw not some profound meaning behind it all, but instead the long, protruding middle finger of the author, accompanied by the condescending chuckle of a man much smarter than myself, scorning my foolish attempts at making sense of it all.

IMEANYEAHIGUESSTHAT’SHOWLIFEISBUTCOMEONDUDE,ISITTOOMUCHTOASKFORALITTLEBITOFMEANINGINASTORY??????

Thomas Pynchon is no doubt a genius and I completely envy his ability to create masterful sentences but damn, his books sure are frustrating to read.

*****Everything else aside, ya'll should check out this lecture on the book. I may have enjoyed it more than the book itself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dtqt0...************
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Reading Progress

05/07/2012 page 13
8.0% "I'm pulled back to this man's writing for paranoid reasons, some need for a resolute whole, like the eventuality of a yo-yo that wraps itself into the cusp of the hand only to stretch itself out again towards the ground and start all over again."
05/07/2012 page 13
8.0% "I'm pulled back to this man's writing for paranoid reasons, some need for a resolute whole, like the eventuality of a yo-yo that wraps itself into the cusp of the hand only to stretch itself out again towards the ground and start all over again."

Comments (showing 1-26 of 26) (26 new)

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Riku Sayuj Brilliantly written!


Stephen M Thanks Riku!


Stephen M Damn, I just noticed that I mention David Mitchell in this review. I do that with every freakin' review I write.

I better make a 'mentions-mitchell' shelf to keep everyone duly warned.


message 4: by Nilesh (new)

Nilesh Kashyap It's strange that after reading review of Pynchon's book I'm moving Ghostwritten almost at the top of my tbr pile.


Stephen M Nilesh wrote: "It's strange that after reading review of Pynchon's book I'm moving Ghostwritten almost at the top of my tbr pile."

That's always a good thing. Have you read any of his other stuff?


message 6: by Nilesh (new)

Nilesh Kashyap I'm highly concerned about chronological order of publication of works by any author, so that way Ghostwritten comes first. Though I'm not excited about reading this but about Cloud Atlas, which comes third. Its far.


message 7: by MJ (new)

MJ Nicholls Great review. I keep forgetting Mitchell's meta credentials, probably coz his books all have idiotic pink and purple covers over here, like frickin' wallpaper. But I will read more of him, one day. Also, intrguing to see yet more huge-benefit-of-the-doubt for Pynchon. Ahem.


Stephen M Well, I am biased but Ghostwritten is freakin' sweet! And so is pretty much all his books.

Number9dream, the second book of his the one I mention here, is my favorite of his right now. I'm not familiar with your tastes but gosh, I feel like there could be something in all his work that everyone can get down to. His writing is so nuanced and beautiful.


message 9: by Stephen M (last edited Jun 20, 2012 02:05AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Stephen M MJ wrote: "Great review. I keep forgetting Mitchell's meta credentials, probably coz his books all have idiotic pink and purple covers over here, like frickin' wallpaper. But I will read more of him, one day...."

Ha, guilty. Most likely Pynchon planted a hypnotic suggestion in his book. Only my subconscious heard "no matter how aggravating this book is, you will still love me". That's really his only skills as a writer.

I believe Mitchell is bit more manly in the states. I don't think we could handle any of that sissy stuff from England. Hem, 'merica. Bald eagles. Shotguns.


message 10: by Jason (new)

Jason An honest assessment, Stephen. How are you faring with GR?
Oh, nm, I just saw your last status update on that. This makes me wary of Pynchon. Results in mounds of frustrating people.


s.penkevich How pissed were you when it ended?! I was in public and shouted 'what!?!' when I turned the final page and realzied the meaning of life was -

The bits right before then when she self analyzes the world was brilliant though. I like the city being like a circuit board. But yeah, what a tease of an ending. So great yet so frustrating. Great review! I like how so often reviews on here lead to a discussion of the Great Mitchell.


message 12: by Steve (new)

Steve Great lead-up motivating your stand against gibberish. I wish your teacher could be summoned at will -- I'd certainly appreciate his insights (and his tips on when to filter out the nonsense).

I'll be looking forward to your assessment of GR, and how it compares with this one.

And a big "Amen" to your Mitchell comment. His meta-fiction does have a point, as does his other jiggery pokery, it seems.


message 13: by Jason (new)

Jason I need to read me some Mitchell.


Stephen M Too much Mitchell though. Whatever. I'm glad you guys enjoyed the review and the Mitchell references. Without all you Mitchellites, Goodreads would not be the bright wonderful place that it is. I just want to reread Number9dream and everything will be better about everything I'm reading again.

GR may be a bit better if only because it's longer and Pynchon follows through with his ideas more so than here. There are a lot of similar frustrations but we still are able to see a few threads to completion. With GR it is a different kind of difficult than TCoL49. The former is difficult due to dense, impenetrable prose and specialized academic knowledge. Whereas the latter is just a clustercuss of different threads that don't add up. It's a failed detective story of sorts. And thus, quite frustrating on a lack of resolution level.

S.penk, I found the ending to be really abrupt and more written off than handled delicately. It was interesting to end with the title of the book, and finishing the story when the overall point of it all may have been revealed. But it wasn't enough unfortunately.

Steve: I wish there was a good way to express the gibberish thing. Because on the one hand it is frustrating, as in this book. But I also find the idea itself to be really interesting. I just love the idea that the more layers a story has, the more crazy it becomes. But maybe it is only interesting as an idea and not a good thing in practice, i.e. in reading it. It also depends totally on the way its used. As you mention with Mitchell, I think he handles it well.


Stephen M Jason wrote: "I need to read me some Mitchell."

Yes indeed sir. Have you any of his books? Or your eye on any in particular?


message 16: by Jason (new)

Jason I have cloud atlas, thousand autumns, and black swan green sitting here in a pile of 287 other books. But at least i can move him up in priority. You guys aren't the first to herald the wonder that is David Mitchell.

I've also heard lots of good things about China Miéville...


Stephen M The required M's:

Mitchell
Murakami
Mieville
Marquez
Mishima
McCullers
McCarthy

Wallace (a w is an upside down m).

You could start with Cloud Atlas. I did and I think a lot of other people do too. But BWG is a really fun, easy read if you don't want to sink too many hours into a lofty book like Cloud Atlas. Or if you want to, it's really amazing. S.penk wrote one of my favorite reviews on it: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....


message 18: by Jason (new)

Jason All those others are on my list except for Mishima. It's slow goin', but Ima get to them all eventually. You three steve's are all good reviewers.


message 19: by Mary (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mary Great review. Someday I shall sink my teeth into this book…when I’m feeling less intimidated.


message 20: by Jason (new)

Jason Yeah, Pynchon, Proust, and DFW scare the living bejeezus out of me. I don't think I'm ready.


Stephen M IJ really isn't too bad. It's mostly time consuming.

Mary: thank you. Don't feel too pressured into reading this one. And it's really short, so the periods of utter confusion don't last very long.


s.penkevich Stephen M wrote: "The required M's:

Mitchell
Murakami
Mieville
Marquez
Mishima
McCullers
McCarthy

Wallace (a w is an upside down m).

You could start with Cloud Atlas. I did and I think a lot of other people do to..."


Ha, I love that Wallace makes it in. Good list, reminds me I also need to explore more Mievelle. Thanks for the nod to the C.A. review! I think that review is how I joined in the goodreaders circle of friend.


message 23: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Puma An M addendum:

Marías
Markson
Morrison


message 24: by Steve (new)

Steve Someday soon, I hope, we'll include:

M, Stephen


Stephen M S.penk: That review was epic. It started all the literary pulp talk. Good stuff!

Mike: Three great authors. All of whom I need to read, 'specially that Markson. I need to read more.

Steve: ha, I should have seen that coming.


message 26: by Steve (new)

Steve Jason wrote: "Yeah, Pynchon, Proust, and DFW scare the living bejeezus out of me. I don't think I'm ready."

I'll echo what Stephen said. IJ is not scary or impenetrable. Its challenge is the length, the vocabulary, and, to an extent, the puzzle of the plot.

As for Mitchell, he's clever and full of devices, but never at the expense of approachability. At least that's the way I see it. Others in this comment section can weigh in with their considerable breadth of knowledge to say where they think DFW and Mitchell fit in writerly trait space.


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