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Thomas Pynchon Biography

(1937– ), Slow Learner, The Crying of Lot 49, Gravity's Rainbow, a tour de force

quest stories narrative novel

American novelist and short-story writer, born on Long Island, New York, educated at Cornell University. Pynchon is regarded by many as the archetypal post-modern novelist, whose work has been the expression of an America suspended between chaos and systematic paranoia. Since he has been one of the most determinedly private of writers, biographical information rests on rumours and apocrypha. He spent some time in Greenwich Village, New York, writing short stories and working on a first novel. His earliest stories, written between 1958 and 1964, are collected in Slow Learner (1984), which are early explorations of ideas that later became crucial to his subsequent novels. In 1960 he was hired as a technical writer for Boeing Aircraft Corporation in Seattle, but left two years later. V (1963) is a novel about a quest by a large and varied band of characters for the elusive, supernatural adventuress known only as ‘V’, who appears in various guises at critical moments in European history. This was followed by the more compact The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), another quest narrative. Pynchon's construction of a situation where the act of reading parallels the protagonists' acts of deciphering an encoded world emerges with most sophistication in Gravity's Rainbow (1973), a tour de force of twentieth-century writing, which employs a variety of narrative modes to investigate an extraordinary range of phenomena, exploring the dilemmas of humanity in modern industrial capitalism. Pynchon's novels are complex and erudite, often in the form of anti-detective stories, where mystery rather than solution is highlighted. One is led through an interface between the different discourses of science, politics, popular culture, technology, metaphysics, religion, and epistemology, as well as the labyrinth of the individual psyches of his characters. After a long silence which bred much speculation about his whereabouts, Pynchon published Vineland (1990). The quest in this novel is for Frenesi Gates, the estranged wife of Zoyd Wheeler. Having rejected her counter-cultural back-ground, she has the love of Brock Vond, a Justice Department official. Set in the Nixon-Reagan era, the hidden antagonist in the narrative is Reagan himself, and the book shows all Pynchon's qualities of complex plotting and his allusive knowledge of his surroundings. He has also written an essay entitled ‘Journey into the Mind of Watts’ on Los Angeles (1966) and an article ‘Is It O. K. To Be a Luddite?’ (1984). Deadly Sins appeared in 1993.

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