Szplug's Reviews > Gravity's Rainbow

Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
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Nov 16, 2009

it was amazing

It took me a couple of tries to make it through Pynchon's Great Thing; the first time I began it eagerly enough, only to smash headfirst into an impenetrable wall of thick, viscous prose that so entangled and bewildered me that—after some seventy-odd pages—I said Enough! and moved on. However, the book nibbled away at my mind, and about three weeks later I gave it another try. Determined this time to see it through, I hit the ground running to match pace with A screaming comes across the sky...; somewhat surprised, I found I myself fairly easily clearing hurdles that I had earlier stumbled over and, flush with confidence, made it past my previous checkpoint. It was with bracing speed and excitement that I showed up at Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering, confident that I would not only be able to finish this sucker, but that it would be an amazing, difficult, revelatory, hilarious journey to undertake.

Now, to finish GR, even when under its anticipatory spell and dazed by its glamors, still presents a challenge. The text can switch from Keystone Cop routines and breezy pie-fights to steel cable paragraphs and triple-size airbags, inflated by super-dense sentences, that bring your forward momentum to a crashing halt. There are also stretches where you become exasperated with Pynchon, or bored, and only determination keeps you slogging on; and one still has to imbibe Pynchon's rapid-fire dispensation of culture (both high and low), technology, conspiracies, and science, parse it, and try to make sense of where he is leading you to with his variegated passages of breathtaking and stomach-punching prose—and Dorothy-O, it sure ain't Kansas. One thing that seized me was entropy-to-heat-death: the human body shedding energy as it freezes in the ever-slowing nanoseconds before the absolute-zero, moss-encrusted-stillness of non-life; the encephalic frost ushered in by almighty science as it fills its guts with exuberant energy and spews out entropic dung, the great equalizer that achieves parity in scything a playing field of rictus-limned corpses in an eternal cast renewal for the grand cosmic joke which ends with but a geriatric, wheezing Time inching along astride a single Galactus-like figure channeling Isabella Band-Aid and Wondering what it's for? Is it a truism in GR that those who expend energy in the pursuit of any ambition higher than fraternity hijinks end up paralysed or corrupted by their desires, enter fully into one or the other of the master-slave paradigm that seems the rising cream of the mass human psyche? I pondered whether Pynchon's twentieth-century could best be described as the thousand-fold madnesses of man—in the thrall of brilliant technologies hatched from his own rational mind, many of them mass-murder machines—the paranoia and irrationality, the dissipation of his spirit and sanity born of being forced to stare that mighty, slow-moving tsunami Death full-on into his fathomless, inert, coal-mine eyes without any sense of surety or stable footing whatsoever; of the observer and abyss sharing an eternal kiss of gazes, now that the concealing curtain has been consumed in firing the ovens. Can this be the peak of the parabola traced by the V2 painting gravity's rainbow?

I have no idea, because I've only read the book once, and more than almost any other cosa asombrosa I've ingested, GR screams to be consumed several times—if only to figure out what those square symbols fucking mean: vaginal or anal pursing chronologically branded by a god with more of an angular, less perfect bent? Geometrical hints regarding how to mathematically calculate the commonplace soul's daily suffering? This book stimulated and provoked and entertained me so much that I went on a Pynchon tear, one that—by the time I turned the final page of Mason & Dixon—had worn me to a frazzle. I still have Against the Day in my pile of to-reads; once the latter has been put to bed, I do believe I'll go back to Tyrone Slothrop and Benny the Bulb, to Pynchon's best of a handful of great books and the core of his canon, take a seat in the front-facing car, and experience the highs and lows of this inimitable and wild roller coaster ride once again.
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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike Puma Good god, man, is this how you talk at home? I have visions of people moving away from you in a bar (not the readers, of course), further and further away. This was recommended to me in 1977, or so, as one of the two great contemporary American novels--the other being Dhalgren--I wonder what that fellow would recommend today.


message 2: by Szplug (last edited Feb 21, 2011 11:28AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Szplug Good god, man, is this how you talk at home?

Don't be silly. There's never any mention chez moi of entropic dung or slow-moving tsunamis - though I will cop to constantly referencing vaginal and anal pursing.

the other being Dhalgren

Never read Delany, though I've often been tempted. As a young'un I was always scared off by the alleged gay themes, though I've thankfully moved beyond that particular roadblock.


message 3: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike Puma I read Dhalgren at the right time and then met the author, so it has sentimental favorite status, consequently I'm reluctant to reread it.


message 4: by John (new)

John Chris, my compliments. GRAVITY'S RAINBOW remains for me a touchstone, if one that at times conducts more electricity than I can stand. Let me say that, if there's a problem here, it's with Slothrop. In significant ways , Pynchon is painting a classic, vast socio-historico canvas, in which one central figure is supposed to make us care & provide essential insights. That "vehicle of consciousness" (as Henry J. would put it) is Slothrop, & I'm not sure he's up to the task. The character's quasi-autobiographical, in fact; he overlaps, almost carelessly, w/ Pychon himself. Still -- GR's a knockout.


message 5: by Szplug (last edited Feb 24, 2011 11:01AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Szplug Hi John. Thanks for the comment.

GRAVITY'S RAINBOW remains for me a touchstone, if one that at times conducts more electricity than I can stand.

I can absolutely get on board with that.

That "vehicle of consciousness" (as Henry J. would put it) is Slothrop, & I'm not sure he's up to the task.

It's been awhile since my GR days, so forgive me if I'm a bit rusty in my recollection here: when I read the book, my interpretation of Slothrop was as the rather bumbling and cartoonish incarnation of American innocence - in both its worldly relations with other nations and its own inherent and idealistic view of its foundational myths and unique collective destiny - going forth unaware of any amoral conditioning and armed with little more than a wayward penis that may-or-may-not be spewing falsehoods and a trail dripping with misdirection, a papered constitution of harmless interference and happenstance who, immersed in the power grid of a Europe smoking in the hyper-opportunities of postwar chaos, eventually (prematurely?) becomes bound in stasis and dissolves, a (barely) living encomium to entropy and the dispersion of whatever traces remained of that flowering prewar innocence - however ill-conceived or misguided - into the gaping maws of technocultural-scientific progress that may have been planted in the minds of man by that mysteriously living hand of cosmogonic will. In other words, Pynchon as a peculiarly American trope - a guileless one, more or less - from perceived brighter and lighter days wandering, in rather nescient fashion, into the energy matrices of something quite beyond his ken.

I'm afraid I've nothing to back this POV other than my own (sadly rather dim) recollections - the truth is, I really need to give this marvelous book another read now that the stunned amazement of the virgin voyage could be replaced by a more discerning take. It's just that it took so much out of me the first time!


message 6: by John (new)

John Sounds about right to me, Chris. Slothrop functions, in large part, as a classic Innocent Abroad, out of his depth almost as soon as he crosses the Atlantic. My complaint, though, is that, given the kind of novel he's in, this protagonist also needs to be something richer than a stand-in, & in that regard he disappoints, too often.


message 7: by Szplug (last edited Mar 03, 2011 10:21AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Szplug My complaint, though...

That's certainly a fair complaint, and I cannot disagree with you on Slothrop being unable to pull off what we required of him. While I was disappointed with his rather casual and abrupt elimination from the narrative well before the final pages, I hadn't actually much thought about Slothrop's nebulosity being a problem. Thanks for the insight.


Rayroy I'm starting my secound attempt, since my first one back in april in which i made to 300 some pages, I have since read Mason & Dixon and Vineland


message 9: by Szplug (last edited Dec 08, 2011 12:47PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Szplug Good luck! GR is a different beast from Mason & Dixon and the Vine, with its second half entropy working to sap the energy from the reader. At some point in the (near?) future I am going to finally tackle Against the Day and then follow-up (fingers crossed) with my second voyage through this wunderbuch.


message 10: by Gabi (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gabi Dopazo Chris, you should definitely speak like that at home, talk about the eggs you have in the morning in the same way you speak about GR, the angle in which someone’s voice sediments over stupid things, in the living room… dude, pass the tv remote! Great pleasure reading your reviews. About GR, if you guys found it hard, try to read it being Spanish like myself, having English as a second language… Jeeesus Christ! I didn’t get most of the plot, not gonna lie. It was ok to follow Tyrone from scene to scene, but the rest was much harder. Never knew who was everyone supposed to represent… still I found some gems from page to page, and somehow, deep inside, the book has probably alter the way I think of literature, I’m glad I read it. Back to the start, Chris, you should definitely consider speaking like that at home


Szplug Thanks, Gabi. I do speak that way at home, but usually only after I've gone crazy and ingested a mixing bowl of chocolate ice cream and crushed Skor™ bars

Yeah, I couldn't even begin to imagine tackling this beast in another language. Did you ever consider reading it in Spanish? I can only imagine what this thicket of prose would be like in that lovely Latinate lengua, though I have to admit that El arco iris de la gravedad is fucking be-yoo-ti-ful. Llega un grito a través del cielo also rings off just as nice as the opening line in English. After that, though, I'd quickly lose my steam.


message 12: by Gabi (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gabi Dopazo El Arco Iris de la Gravedad???? That doesn’t even sound right! Should be “La Gravedad del Arco Iris”. When you put gravedad last, it means “seriousness”, the seriousness of the rainbow… hate translations! It’s even worse when they translate movie’s titles…Rocky IV could be “The running man” and Lasie could be “The last temptation”… anyway, I gotta say that after reading GR, I now feel closer not just to the book but also to the author. To know that out there is a community of people that’s gone through it, experiencing similar feelings… I’ll have to read it again, maybe in a different way, maybe without the pressure that one unloads on himself for reading such a book. There will always be a time when we all read that book, when we were reading GR. I will be having coffee and out of nowhere I’ll say: while reading Gravity’s Rainbow, the neighbour got syphilis, or someone’s roof broke, or the water bill got lost, or look who’s coming for dinner… isn’t that nice?


Szplug Good point, Gabi. But La gravedad del arco iris emphasizes el arco iris, when Pynchon's original English title requires that Gravity be the genitive and Rainbow the nominative—Gravity's Rainbow is also The Rainbow of Gravity. So, notwithstanding that Spanish does possess those subtle meaning shifts depending upon word order—especially with modifiers—wouldn't what the publishers opted for, El arco iris de la gravedad come the closest to maintaining Pynchon's titular meaning while allowing context to provide the sense of la gravedad?


message 14: by knig (new) - rated it 2 stars

knig I am only going to forgive you this review because you seem to have read it once upon a time, before you knew any better.


Szplug Are you more irked by the content of the review itself, or that it aligns me with those who seem astonished by a book you found to be a thorny pretender that constitutionally rebuffs the very nature of the extremely laudatory praise, and high status, is has garnered over time?


message 16: by John (new)

John A Amazon review said the black cover ed has typos, is it true?


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