<= 2002.11.14

2002.11.16 =>

book club

Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon. Once again we have a Pynchon novel that is large, and contains multitudes. At the start I wasn't sure how much I could take of the capitalized nouns, the past-tense verbs ending in 'd and the past participles ending in -éd, but all that subjectively disappears after 40 pages. More than anything else, the prose and the meandering comedy reminded me of Tristram Shandy—I don't know whether there's been much talk of Sterne as Pynchon's precursor, but the resemblance is apparent. On the Pynchon Difficulty Scale, this one ranks far below Gravity's Rainbow and probably somewhere near V.; there's some head-scratching discussion on the metaphysics of slavery, but also much good clean fun with talking dogs, sentient animatronic ducks, flying Jesuits, reverse werewolves, George Washington's hemp farm, anachronisms involving ketchup and pizza and Star Trek. This may also be the most out-and-out moving thing that Pynchon's ever written. Mason and Dixon spar ceaselessly for seven hundred pages, but beneath the ribbing lies a steadily deepening affection. Pynchon doesn't force this; he simply allows it to happen, and in a book so crowded with willful excess this is a most admirable restraint.

Donald Antrim, The Hundred Brothers. This short novel's premise of one hundred brothers meeting for a ritual dinner in the old family library seems a little facile, and the book did have something of the cotton-candy flavor that people like Auster and Murakami can give off, but in the end it hung together well enough. Page by page it was funny, if not half so funny as Barthelme, who will forever be the king of books like these. Its greatest strength lay in not trying for too much. Antrim sets the scene, tosses up some Jungian ideas (rendered glib and toothless by the postmodernism machine) about genealogy and communities and sacrifice, and lets the curtain fall. Seeing as it took maybe two hours to read, I can't say I regret it.

Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. One of the blurbs on the back lauded this for being well-written, despite how hard it is to write about youth when you're young. At first I thought that was silly—surely any idiot young person can write about youth—but having finished the book, I see what they mean. This novel's charm is its documentation of how something so banal as a conversation in a restaurant, the food in the restaurant, the song they happen to be playing in the restuarant, lands on you with the weight of heaven in those early years. It doesn't seem like the sort of realization a young person would have about youth; it's something you only realize by contrast, once you enter those tired, jaded older years. Granted, it's open for debate whether those years are upon me, but all the same I think I see what they're getting at. The inevitable comparisons to Fitzgerald don't entirely miss the mark. Even this early, Chabon's style has an easiness and grace, a flip way of rolling out a jaw-dropping turn of phrase, rather like This Side of Paradise—though he avoids that book's coy modernism and unconscionable structural flaws. In short, his age-24 book is better than mine, and I do resent him for it.

 

<= 2002.11.14

2002.11.16 =>

up (2002.11)

The Warm South
The Roof Rat Review