Let the Reader Beware

There’s been a lot of hubbub about the Pynchon-speaking universe over the last couple of weeks, as Viking/Penguin let it be known that there would be a Big New Novel by the man himself released near the end of this year. I’ve been watching the wild speculation without chiming in, in no small part because there’s something both exhausting and depressing about the prospect for me. In late 1997, as I was trying like mad to finish up my dissertation, which focused heavily on the work of Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo, they each gave the finger to my completion, by releasing Mason & Dixon and Underworld, respectively. I was beside myself, just wanting to be done, and suddenly there was another 1800 pages worth of primary text to be digested.

I survived. I dissertated, defended, moved, taught, completely rewrote, submitted, resubmitted, and finally, the book is among us. Done!

Except. Now there’s this, this time cunningly released after mine was sealed in print, so that it can never even pretend to completeness.

Oh, joy to those of you who work on non-contemporary fields; there is unlikely ever to be a new release by the authors you study.

All whinging aside, however, I’m looking forward to reading this one. And curious how much of the book description currently on Amazon can be taken at face value, not to mention whether it’s by the man himself, as the “signature” seems to suggest:

Spanning the period between the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.

The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.

As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it’s their lives that pursue them.

Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they’re doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction.

Let the reader decide, let the reader beware. Good luck.

–Thomas Pynchon

[UPDATE, 7.20.06, 4.30 pm: The plot thickens. See comments for more.]

5 thoughts on “Let the Reader Beware

  1. my high school calc teacher had been a grad student about to dissertate in computer science in the 80s. two months before his defense, he had to have emergency surgery on a blood clot in his leg, then he got some hospital infection in the wound. it took a while to get it under control (15 years later, when i was in his class, he had to have the leg amputated anyway). anyway, i guess by the time he was well enough to go to work, his dissertation topic was pretty much obsolete. so he quit. pretty sad, huh?

  2. Okay, so I knew I was setting myself up for somebody to come up with a counter-example. Yes, “lost” texts resurface, etc. But it remains bloody unlikely, as compared with the likelihood of one’s contemporary subjects taking it into their head to produce another doorstopper…

  3. So, Penguin has now “reluctantly confirmed” the book’s title — Against the Day — and that the blurb was indeed by Pynchon. So was the posting-and-removal a goof-up by Amazon (just putting the thing up too soon), or is this a Penguin marketing strategy?

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