(Current fiction & past quality fiction)
Now that “Bleeding Edge” (Penguin) by Thomas Pynchon has surfaced the vultures of literary criticism have descended on the poor guy as Examiner predicted back on July 11. Examiner has hunted far and wide to find a more judicial appraisal of Pynchon’s most recent novel. Finally, in the pages of The Guardian in London some less abusive words were unearthed:
“Pynchon lets surreal, beautiful bits of prose filter in: ‘Sometimes, down in the subway, a train Maxine’s riding on will slowly be overtaken by a local or an express on the other track, and in the darkness of the tunnel, as the windows of the other train move slowly past, the lighted panels appear one by one, like a series of fortune-telling cards being dealt and slid in front of her. The Scholar, The Unhoused, The Warrior Thief, The Haunted Woman … After a while Maxine has come to understand that the faces framed in these panels are precisely those out of all the city millions she must in the hour be paying most attention to, in particular those whose eyes actually meet her own … At some point naturally she begins to wonder if she might not be performing the same role for some face looking back out another window at her.’”
Commented The Guardian, “’Bleeding Edge’ is not Pynchon’s best book, nor even in the top five, but it is as wistful as it is wacky. Every book critic, novelist, internet mogul and private eye is as much a living, breathing cartoon as those that Pynchon creates. Whether we see each other as superficial caricatures or flesh and blood is our choice, and we face that choice every time we pass each other, above ground, below it, or online.”
That Pynchon would move into such territory (the Internet) isn’t surprising, however, because he apparently ran out of gas with “Inherent Vice,” a sort of relic detective yarn strewn across a California beach front. His epic “Mason & Dixon” still stands as a monument to contemporary literature as noted by Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times: “. . . a book that testifies to his remarkable powers of invention and his sheer power as a storyteller, a storyteller who in this case demonstrates that he can write a novel that is as moving as it is cerebral, as poignant as it is daring.”
This time around the Times’ Michiko Kakutani has taken the author to task for writing “a total mishmash” of “Pynchon Lite”. The criticisms have merit, especially about the lack of believable characters. But New York is “a total mishmash,” noted The Guardian, and cited its belief that brutal comedy alone was not what Pynchon has in mind. “When he reaches the very real tragedy of 9/11,” wrote The Guardian, “all the madcap conspiracies and wordplay recede. The protagonist, a woman named Maxine, can only sit and watch TV like most Americans did that day, and she’s helpless to determine whether her kids’ financier father is alive or dead.”
Examiner has complained that Pynchon doesn’t know how to wrap up a story (Examiner Sept. 24, 2010) except in “Mason & Dixon” where he closes and actually wraps up with Mason’s observation: “Day by day, the pioneers and surveyors go on, more points are being tied in, and soon becoming visible, as above, new stars are recorded and named and plac’d in Almanacks . . .” Of course, there are a few more lines after that, but it wouldn’t be Pynchon if there weren’t.
Examiner has suggested in the past that the mystery of Etruscan origins may well be included in the next novel by Pynchon, a writer who helped change the direction of the modern novel from 1963 onward. After all, DNA tests confirm the Eastern origin of that first millennium BC culture in the center of Italy, including Rome, a theory first put forward by classic historians Herodotus and Thucydides. You never know, but “Mason & Dixon” looks like the best so far. The truth is, despite “Bleeding Edge,” Examiner remains a loyal follower of Thomas Pynchon.