By Erik K.
I’ve managed to get my hands on the first 25 pages of Against the Day, although as publication draws ever nearer, it seems like I’m the only one around who doesn’t have an advance copy...!
What can you tell about a Pynchon novel by reading only 25 pages? Well, plenty, judging by his previous works. Having read them all, I think that the tone and style of each novel is pretty much there even in those first dozen pages. Gravity’s Rainbow especially undergoes some transformations, but in general, Pynchon maintains the voice he sets out in the beginning of each work.
That said, which of Pynchon’s previous works does Against the Day seem to most resemble? The best I can put it is Gravity’s Rainbow minus the madness but not quite as mellow as Mason & Dixon. Although it’s over 1000 pages long, it also seems like his most readable novel ever. Digressions, a Pynchon staple, are fewer and less digressive than either GR or M&D. He sticks to the story and seems committed to narrative in a more straightforward manner than usual. While there’s little that could be described as outright serious in the first 25 pages, the mood is gently good-humored, not as pathologically wacky as Vineland.
I’ve been wrestling with various ways to describe the prose of Against the Day within the context of Pynchon’s oeuvre, but it’s tricky. The way I always thought of Pynchon’s career is that in the very beginning, with the stories of Slow Learner and V., Pynchon (like his friend Richard Fariña) tried to reinvent the wheel of written English and it didn’t exactly work. He kept perfecting that bizarre style of prose, however, and it made a quantum leap by Gravity’s Rainbow, by which point the prose was unlike anything seen before, fiery and strange and deeply poetic. It worked. The prose of Vineland was as intelligent as before, but unable to completely show its stuff because the plot always veered so far from serious statements and subject matter. Mason & Dixon, meanwhile, was Pynchon’s mammoth attempt at reinventing 18th century English, and stands as one of the greatest style experiments in English-language literature
To wrap up that metaphor, the prose of Against the Day is the reinvented wheel, fully realized, perfected and ready to roll. It seems like the logical evolution/conclusion to Pynchon’s career as a prose experimentalist: it looks sort of like modern English but isn’t (read almost any sentence at random in Against the Day and it’s almost always unlike anything you’ve ever read). It’s something completely unique in American letters today and is ultra-experimental while still managing to read like a dream.
Publisher’s Weekly wrote that the novel “glows,” and I know what they mean: like the cover, the book is just white. Pure writing, pure Pynchon. As Pynchonoid wrote, this is “the Pynchon we love to read.” And it is.
Word on the street has it that most professional reviews that appear in the coming weeks will be rushed and incomplete, since reviewers weren’t given enough time with the book, as happened before with Vineland (and Mason & Dixon? I’m unsure). That’s fine, thoughas Pynchon himself said, “Let the reader decide, let the reader beware.” The Modern Word will feature a complete review of Against the Day at some point in the future by the illustrious Quail, who is savoring the book and refuses to rush it.