To finish this beast is, as my partner put it, not always in one’s best interests; after all, it seems to come with a certain kind of academic and/or literary capital, won from the world in the act of finishing: I defeated you, I beat you back, o monstrous labyrinth, look at me, now I am the master.
Aside from whether I actually liked it or not (I did, in places his prose made me afraid to write, in other places envious to a degree I’ve not felt before, in others, bored shitless), there were several things I felt it useful to note down. This post is more of a fly-bye on the style; the next post will look a bit at GR’s themes.
Pynchon really likes a set-piece. Not always, but often, these set-pieces are nestled inside nestled stories. They are immediately recognisable (Slothrop eating weird, colourful, revolting sweets, the banana festival, the anthropophagic dinner-time conversation, but also the custard-pie fuelled flight from colonel Marvy). Most of these have some relation to food, and perhaps that’s why I remembered them so particularly: vivid because mixed-sense. It’s worth noting, as a technique, that a series of variations on a few key elements works on the imagination better than a long list of different items – i.e. the mad sweet episode.
At the beginning I was literally noting down an image or a sentence every page. This grew so exhausting I stopped about 200 pages in. Most memorable for me were Pynchon’s descriptions of weather. Usually these shone – colourful, or inventive, or both – and kept me sewn into the book’s weird flow.
“An autumn sunrise dispensing light glassy and deep over then all” (p.131).
He also has a thing for long sentences. I love long sentences, and particularly Pynchon’s – they have this tendency to start with a certain kind of thing (object, subject, action) and morph/travel somewhere else. Some sublime sentences include:
“The pig and Slothrop settled down to sleep among pines thick with shreds of tinfoil, a cloud of British window dumped to fox the German radars in some long-ago rais, a whole forest of Christmas trees, tinsel rippling in the wind, catching the starlight, silent, ice-cold crownfire acres wild over their heads all night.” (Pynchon, GR, p.601).
Aside from the sheer weirdness of a night-time forest of decorated Christmas trees, I love the “ice-cold crownfire” coming right after the sleepy pig image. The shift is awesome. This stuff is so good to me – so elegant, quick, witty, even – it hurts me a little bit, and I would say this sort of shift or transformation is pretty much common in GR.
“He is constant back there, westward, the African half-brother and his poetry books furrowed and sown with Teutonic lettering burntwood-black – he waits, smudging the pages one by one, out across the unnumbered versts of lowland and of zonal light that slants as their autumns come around again each year, that leans along the planet’s withers like an old circus rider, tries to catch their attention with nothing more than its public face, and continues to fail at each slick, perfect pass around the ring.” (Pynchon, GR, p.409)
The movement from plot/character background to an expansive imagine of the light slicing around and around again is really nice.
“From beyond the pale of electric light comes a rush of girls, shivering, aroused, beruffled, to witch St. John Bladdery away under cover of pretty pastel synthetics and amorous squeals.” (Pynchon, GR, p.708).
I seem to recall this happening a lot in the book – choruses of girls rushing and out. They populate forests, chase-scenes, numerous brothels/bars/taverns. I mean, surreal is an over-used word when describing this sort of thing. I think I mean – filmic. It makes it feel like a filmic dream. It makes it feel like the world is taking the piss. I don’t know what it makes it feel like, to be honest, but the presence of these unexplained extras adds this strangeness to the narrative that I find enchanting. Unexplained zaniness; plausible, somehow, in the way a dream-sequence is plausible to the dreamer.