What the Fuck Have I Gotten Into?

Around eight years ago I finished David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, so I thought it was about time to get to Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. I’m getting towards the end of the first part of the book, at around page 150, and all I can think about is, “What the fuck have I gotten myself into?”

GR is a fucking slog of a tome. My Penguin paperback edition is 776 pages, and unlike IJ there are not over 100 pages of endnotes. Also I started reading this on July 31, so I’m not getting through this easily.

The problem: I HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON. It was a very bad sign at the very beginning of the novel after it’s famous opening lines, “A screaming comes across the sky,” we are presented with a mass evacuation of civilians in what I eventually surmised to be London at the end of WWII. The folks are taken to a old hotel outside of the city when all of the sudden we are introduced to Pirate Prentice and his… um… I don’t know who they are to be honest. His flatmates? His coworkers? His army squad? Come to find out that the evacuation scene was a dream, but I went back and tried to see where that was implied. I don’t know. I guess I see it after looking at it a million times, but fuck man. This is just the first three pages.

But no. I’m determined to finish this because we’ve been told that this is the best postwar novel, period. It won the 1973 National Book Award and is allegedly should have been a unanimous Pulitzer Prize winner but was rejected because it was deemed to be obscene among other things. Now THAT is reason enough to get me to finish this motherfucker. But as I went on, with characters coming in and out like a revue, stories jumping around that I didn’t notice had jumped around until I was already knee-deep and completely lost, it’s tough. Like I said, I have no idea what is going on.

Not to say that the writing is bad. It’s really funny and mischievous that you have no idea if the facts Pynchon presents are true or Trumpian. I mean, there is a character who is running around the bombed-out London wasteland with a toilet stuck on his foot. And, from what I’ve read, one of the characters who is meant to be central to the narrative, Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop can predict where a V-2 rocket strikes based on where he fucks bringing up quite a discussion on whether his hardons are a reverse-Pavlovian response.

This isn’t my first rodeo with Pynchon. I’ve read V, Inherent Vice and Bleeding Edge, so I’m well aware of his style and humor. But this one is going to take a few readings to even begin to understand which brings up this question: Is it my fault it’s difficult or is it the author’s fault? Also, if I don’t see the genius in this, does this mean I’m stupid? Well I know other things I do and are ignorant about make me stupid, but is this another reason to add to the list?

I guess I’ll just continue to slog on.

Someone actually made Pirate Prentice’s banana breakfast. via Tom Pynchon’s Liquor Cabinet