Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 46 (Thomas Pynchon)

Gravity's Rainbow
Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

I have no idea where I bought this.

It was during my final year in college. I spent the entire year trying and failing to get through it. Twice I read the first three hundred pages and put the book down. Part of this had to do with the book's interrupting my schoolwork, part of it with frustration. In between attempts I am pretty sure that I read V. and The Crying of Lot Forty-Nine as well as some literary criticism that gave me some context for the book.

At the time I really didn't have a strong sense of history, so I understood the book more within the context of literary history than I did in the context of the history of WWII and its aftermath. I remember reading a long essay about the physics of missile launches and how that related to the title of the book. I remember reading about the V-2 bomb, the bombing London, etc. I did not finish reading Gravity's Rainbow until the summer after I graduated.

The university had allowed me to keep my apartment over the summer in exchange for keeping an eye on the building -- I had worked as an RA to cover my living expenses in college and had been in charge of the small apartment building in the Bronx that I lived in, so this was really just an extension of the work I'd done during the school year.

I spent the summer applying for teaching jobs at private schools throughout New York City and spent the rest of the time reading, writing and playing guitar in my apartment on Belmont Ave. I once again began by reading the first three hundred pages and then setting it down. I had acquired a copy of On The Road, another book I had not yet read, and in the interim finished that. As soon as I did, I went back to Gravity's Rainbow and spent the rest of the summer working my way through it.

I remember being obsessed with the book to the point that when I conversed at parties I would inevitably recount some fascinating or grotesque scene from the novel, mostly to the boredom and chagrin of my friends. I think it took the whole summer to finish, during which time I found a job and an apartment in the East Village and moved downtown.

The book became so worn that the cover nearly tore off. A couple of years later, a friend, D, who I have written about extensively on this blog, had begun purchasing large quantities of paperback books off the dollar racks at places like The Strand. Most of them were in terrible shape, so so he bought a large amount of clear packing tape that he used to hold the covers of the books together long enough so that he could give them each a read.

One day, D came by my apartment and pulled Gravity's Rainbow off the shelf. He showed me that the cover had nearly separated from the book and offered to take the book home and tape it back together. I agreed. The book has since withstood another reading (by Lori) and nearly twenty years' worth of moves and shelf life. I guess he did a pretty good job.

I now have a strange feeling about this book. It was very important to me at a certain moment in my life. My ardor bordered on obsession. However, unlike, say, reading Proust or Melville, I always felt like the payoff was not there. There was no moment of recognition, no appearance of the white whale, etc., and so over time this book has come to mean less to me than others I have labored over.

from Gravity's Rainbow

It was very early morning. He stumbled out alone into a wet brick street. Southward the barrage balloons, surfriders on the combers of morning, were glowing, pink and pearl, in the sunrise.

They've cut Slothrop loose again, he's back on the street, shit, last chance for a Section 8 'n' he blew it...

Why didn't they keep him on at that nut ward for as long as they said they would - wasn't it supposed to be a few weeks? No explanation - just "Cheerio!" and the onionskin sending him back to that ACHTUNG. The Kenosha Kid, and that Crouchfield the Westwardman and his sidekick Whappo have been all his world for these recent days ... there were still problems to be worked out, adventures not yet completed, coercions and vast deals to be made on the order of the old woman's arrangement for getting her pig home over the stile. But now, rudely, here's that London again.

But something's different ... something's ... been changed ... don't mean to bitch, folks, but - well for instance he could almost swear he's being followed, or watched anyway. Some of the tails are pretty slick, but others he can spot, all right. Xmas shopping yesterday at that Woolworth's, he caught a certain pair of beady eyes in the toy section, past a heap of balsa-wood fighter planes and little-kid-size Enfields. A hint of constancy to what shows up in the rearview mirror of his Humber, no color or model he can pin down but something always present inside the tiny frame, has led him to start checking out other cars when he goes off on a morning's work. Things on his desk at ACHTUNG seem not to be where they were. Girls have found excuses not to keep appointments. He feels he's being gently separated from the life he lived before going into St. Veronica's. Even in movies there's always someone behind him being careful not to talk, rattle paper, laugh too loud : Slothrop's been to enough movies that he can pick up an anomaly like that right away.


dante rosso said...

i thumbed through it and all i can remember is a giant nose pursuing someone and rhyme involving the temperature of a polar bear's behind

konrad said...

There's an audiobook of GR i listen to. The wit of sentences themselves, often as convoluted as the narrative, just makes me burst out laughing. The reader is George Guidall

bethy the tiger with good feeling 好感余情 said...

I just stumbled across your blog here looking for something about Foucault. Neat-o. Oddly enough, I also put down Gravity's Rainbow for On the Road. Then I put down On the Road for some short story no one has ever heard of, called A Bit Off the Map. I associate them all as one big lump. I will now float around in your archives.

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Thanks for stopping by, Bethy! I love to hear comments like that -- I hope you'll leave more if you feel so inclined!