"A screaming comes across the sky."
This summer the National Book Foundation has been posting reader reactions to each of the 77 fiction winners from its 60-year history. Along with Casey Hicks (whose overview is great—Byron the Bulb!), I wrote a short bit about Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, which went online today. (Perfect timing with Inherent Vice releasing yesterday.) I can’t say for certain, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my piece is the first time both The O.C. and Paris Hilton are mentioned on the National Book Foundation blog . . . Here’s the opening:
“A screaming comes across the sky.”
This is arguably one of twentieth-century literature’s most recognizable opening lines. A “Call me Ishmael” for the paranoids, the pot smokers, the conspiracy theorists who see patterns in everything. “No, this is not a disentanglement from, but a progressive knotting into . . .”
I first read Gravity’s Rainbow the summer after graduating from college and was instantly convinced that this was THE BOOK OF ALL BOOKS. Everything is here—high level musings on philosophy, physics, chemistry, psychology, séances and the beyond; outrageous names (lots of outrageous names: Pig Bodine, Teddy Bloat, Pirate Prentice, Captain Dominus Blicero), songs, and a surreal trip down a toilet; information about “Them,” V-2 rockets, and absolute fear. High culture and pop references. History and trivia. And out of all that comes a the obsessive feeling that all these pieces might add up to something of Monumental Importance, or might just be a fun way to kill a few months . . .
It’s almost impossible to even summarize this novel, which features more than 400 different characters and dozens of plot threads. I mean, this is a novel that starts with a top-secret military group studying data on how each of Tyrone Slothrop’s sexual encounters takes place at a location that is hit by a V-2 rocket days later. Is this just coincidence? Or is it a result of experiments done on Baby Tyrone by Laszlo Jamf involving a mysterious substance called Imipolex G? And what the hell is the significance of the “00000” rocket and the S-Gerät component?