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?
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .