Saturday, June 30, 2007

Book Review: Pynchon – Against the Day

So I finished it. And it was pretty darned amazing. I’m not going to say it was an easy six months of my life. No. It certainly wasn’t. There were, of course, the obvious physical challenges of spending all those hours (those miles) with six pounds of hardcover bound small print, hard edges threatening my eye sockets, but that was the least of my problems. My wife did suggest that it was “un-sexy” to wear those sport goggles in bed, and she also threatened to ban it from our marital boudoir after I used it to stop that bathroom flood; wine lovers refer to that smell as “ash” or “barnyard” at worst, and even so they find it sexy.

No, I’m happy to report the real challenges lay in the text. With over a hundred characters to keep track of, working in multiple timelines, sometimes alternated dimensions or even media, there was frankly more than I could often handle. Encyclopedic is probably the best way to describe it, and many reviewers do. Except, it would be more like if someone decided to make a novel out of a “B-side” encyclopedia, compiling stories from all the slightly-less-significant-and-sometimes-even-a-little-obscure people and places of the early 20th century: Salzburg, not Paris; Venice, not Rome; Montenegro and Kazakhstan, not Moscow; Denver.

There were spells when I walked away from it. There was one occasion where I left three rather long voice mails on Liesl Schillinger’s phone. But each time, just when I thought I was on the verge of leaving my dollar-bill bookmark in that bad-boy for the last time, I would wind up with a pair of espressos in my hand and a quiet morning ahead of me. And when approached in this way, the book would roll over and show me its marvelous insides. Complex, funny, strangely touching, it could confuse as well as enlighten.

One of the Pynchon fan-sites that I appealed to for help midway through the first third (this would be, what, February?) offered up some advice that really resonated with me. Paraphrasing: reading Pynchon is like listening to jazz, you can listen and try to understand to as much or as little of it as you like and still enjoy it. If it gets to hectic, or you are not sure what is happening, just lie back and let it wash over you. It’s not supposed to make sense, it’s just meant to make you feel good. Feel good, and think.

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