Thomas Pynchon– notorious recluse, celebrity author, enigma extraordinaire– has a new book out that is due to hit shelves in September 2013. For avid Pynchonophiles, as they are realistically called (See Don Foster’s Author Unknown: Tales of Literary Detective (2001)), this will mean another haphazard, chaotic though worthwhile endeavour down the darkest of rabbit-holes. Pynchon’s works are as notoriously dense as they are absurd; unbelievable characters, incredulous scenarios and conspiracy theories interwoven with sex and frantic lyricism, they are a force to contend with. They are the stuff of pop culture but also of complex academic inquiry and mathematical investigation, which makes them one of the more unique additions to contemporary literature but also one of the more difficult to absorb.
Pynchon has not been seen in public for years; his whereabouts are unknown, only few pictures of him are in existence, and little is known of his private life save that he purportedly studied under the Russian literary genius Vladimir Nabokov. And yet, despite the reclusiveness, Pynchon is a celebrity, having appeared on The Simpsons several times (though with a paper bag over his head) and having had his life been made the subject of intense scrutiny and speculation. Several theorists have speculated that his shrinking from the public gaze– something not seen since JD Salinger’s public disappearance– is a gesture performed so that his works may outshine his own personal life, yet if this was indeed the author’s intention it has not particularly succeeded. Pynchon’s latest novel, Bleeding Edge (2013), merges political strife with the digital age. The description is as follows:
It is 2001 in New York City, in the lull between the collapse of the dot-com boom and the terrible events of September 11th. Silicon Alley is a ghost town, Web 1.0 is having adolescent angst, Google has yet to IPO, Microsoft is still considered the Evil Empire. There may not be quite as much money around as there was at the height of the tech bubble, but there’s no shortage of swindlers looking to grab a piece of what’s left. Maxine Tarnow is running a nice little fraud investigation business on the Upper West Side, chasing down different kinds of small-scale con artists. She used to be legally certified but her license got pulled a while back, which has actually turned out to be a blessing because now she can follow her own code of ethics—carry a Beretta, do business with sleazebags, hack into people’s bank accounts—without having too much guilt about any of it. Otherwise, just your average working mom—two boys in elementary school, an off-and-on situation with her sort of semi-ex-husband Horst, life as normal as it ever gets in the neighborhood—till Maxine starts looking into the finances of a computer-security firm and its billionaire geek CEO, whereupon things begin rapidly to jam onto the subway and head downtown. She soon finds herself mixed up with a drug runner in an art deco motorboat, a professional nose obsessed with Hitler’s aftershave, a neoliberal enforcer with footwear issues, plus elements of the Russian mob and various bloggers, hackers, code monkeys, and entrepreneurs, some of whom begin to show up mysteriously dead. Foul play, of course. With occasional excursions into the DeepWeb and out to Long Island, Thomas Pynchon, channeling his inner Jewish mother, brings us a historical romance of New York in the early days of the internet, not that distant in calendar time but galactically remote from where we’ve journeyed to since. Will perpetrators be revealed, forget about brought to justice? Will Maxine have to take the handgun out of her purse? Will she and Horst get back together? Will Jerry Seinfeld make an unscheduled guest appearance? Will accounts secular and karmic be brought into balance? Hey. Who wants to know?
Like Nabokov, despite the brevity and darkness of his novels, Pynchon alleviates his readers from complete nihilism and instead injects much-needed sardonic and black humour into his works alongside endearing pathos and absurdity. At the root of his work is a wry statement on the extremities of modernity (and evidently postmodernity). For those unfamiliar with Pynchon’s work, the author’s debut novel V. (1963), along with the novella The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) and the epic Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) are brilliant and labyrinthine, while boasting an array of colourful, out of this world characters.