Darrell's Reviews > Against the Day

Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
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Feb 19, 08

bookshelves: reviewed
Read in February, 2008

Against The Day is Thomas Pynchon's best book since Gravity's Rainbow. It takes place during the turn of the century in North America, Europe, and Asia with a large cast of characters including magicians, cowboys, miners, an airship crew, industrialists, mad scientists, gamblers, anarchists, secret societies, and spies among others. It's a very enjoyable read, although I did start to find it tedious around page 900, but it quickly became interesting again, and by the end of it, I even found myself wishing it was just a bit longer.

The heart of the story focuses on the family of Webb Traverse, an anarchist who dynamites railroads in protest of unfair working conditions. When he gets murdered, his sons Reef and Frank decide to avenge his death, which is complicated by the fact that their sister has married one of the hitmen and their younger brother Kit has accepted a college scholarship from the man who paid to have their father killed.

There are numerous detours along the way as the three brothers travel around the world and get swept up in history. We get to know the stories of several other characters whose paths crisscross so much it gets hard to keep track of them all.

Pynchon gives his readers a lot of credit, which is both flattering and frustrating. Those who already know something of history will enjoy the book more than those less well versed. For example, there's a bit at the beginning that is hilarious only if you know who Franz Ferdinand is. Pynchon includes other inside jokes that only make sense to the already initiated, such as a conversation between characters in El Paso that makes sly reference to the Marty Robbins song El Paso City. It would have gone over my head if I hadn't already been familiar with the song. I get the sense my cultural illiteracy caused me to miss out on a lot of other parts of the book.

The book is still enjoyable even if much of it goes over your head. Pynchon doesn't write typical historical fiction. His airship crew, for example, have a talking dog, fly through the center of the earth, come in contact with time travelers, and wind up in a parallel universe. When the rest of the novel gets in danger of becoming too weighty, he always returns to the crew of the Inconvenience to lighten things up a bit. His style of writing is so unique, that it's enjoyable to read even if you don't understand it.

Weighing in at over 1000 pages, Against The Day is certainly a commitment, but one well worth it.
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