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Pynchon, Thomas

society bombing organization novels

(US, 1937– )

Pynchon is a mysterious figure who never communicates with the press. He worked in aircraft design for a while, and his works relate scientific ideas, big business organization, American society and popular culture to each other. The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), the second of his five novels, is the shortest and most approachable—in fact it is very funny, with lots of brilliant set piece scenes (including a reverse strip-tease). The heroine has been made executrix of the will of her late lover, and sets out to discover the full extent of his affairs. She stumbles upon a mysterious underground organization which communicates by means of an international, alternative postal system that has been going for centuries. The suggestion is that mainstream society needs, and maybe even creates, the very forces that appear to challenge and undermine it, because the interaction thus created allows it to survive. And it's all related to Newton's second law of thermodynamics!

If you enjoy this, go back to Pynchon's much longer first novel, V (1963), which takes us on a dizzying journey from nineteenth-century colonialism to the Second World War bombing of Malta, to the alligator-infested sewers of New York. If you can cope with that you are probably ready for the hugely demanding third, Gravity's Rainbow (1973, Pulitzer Prize), which covers the V2 bombing of London, the birth of bebop and even The Wizard of Oz. His more recent novels, Vineland (1990) and Mason & Dixon (1997), are just as inventive but some people find them less energetic and compulsive than the earlier work.

Don DeLillo, Norman Mailer, Neal Stephenson, John Barth. See UNITED STATES OF AMERICA  RF

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