The Rocket

"Direct, though not necessarily live"

Not very many of Pynchon's works have been recorded as "books-on-tape." In fact, the only one that we know of is Mason & Dixon, available through Books on Tape. It may be rented or purchased directly from their site or by calling 1-800-626-3333.

Mason & Dixon (Books on Tape)

Read by Jonathan Reese
Books on Tape, Catalog #4454
Unabridged; Twenty 90-minute cassettes; Rental Price $17.95; Purchase Price $80.00.
Browse / Purchase/ Rent]

I have not yet heard this tape, but Michael Gurnow was kind enough to furnish this review:

I originally rented the unabridged audio book to see if I have the patience for Pynchon's latest work, knowing my threshold for the Hamster varied upon which work I was currently confronting at the time. I anticipated problems with the work due to the style and narrative voice in which it was composed, so I cut to the chase and decided to dip my toe in the water of M & D before jumping in headfirst. I opened the tome to page one as I hit play.
As much as the audio reading helps the reader to avoid getting tangled up in the archaic diction of the 18th century narration, Jonathan Reese does justice to the work insofar as he maintains a consistent pace throughout the reading (though this shouldn't be posed as a possible area of contention when listening to an audio book, one must keep in mind just who Reese is having to represent). The downfall of the reading lies in that Reese, though understandably, narrates the tale in a persistent melancholic tone, which leaves the listener contemplating dinner possibilities instead of getting caught up in the world of Mason and Dixon. The intonations between characters can only be heard at inspired moments in the reading, and even then the differences are minute.
Yet perhaps this can be seen a safeguard on Reese's behalf. In a tale which begins with a first-person narrator, and later dives into a third-person telling of events at which the original narrator could not have been present, Reese leaves the interpretation of who is saying and doing what, when, and where solely to the listener. As anyone familiar with Pynchon knows, even though his work is presented in a somewhat linear narrative format, several ambiguities generally arise during the course of any of his long tales. For anyone to assume the task of dictating precisely what is going on at any particular time in a Pynchon text is a gargantuan feat that would not be overindulged by being listed as a Herculean labor.
Aside from the drudgery of the narration, the listener does get to meet a French mechanical duck without a mate, a glowing Indian, a huge ball of cheese, a floating ear, and a talking dog along with such personages as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Samuel Johnson, and James Boswell.
The great fault of the audio rendition of the work lies at the conclusion of the reading. A Pynchon first is seen at the close of this text, a cathartic sentimental tirade upon the death of Dixon and Mason's recollection of his late friend. I have read several accounts of how the death of Dixon lead many a reader to tears. I was interested as to how Pynchon, usually a tongue-in-cheek satirist who keeps himself (and the reader) at a distance from the pestilence of his insane worlds, would pull in his audience and achieve such a Pynchonian precedent. But Reese's reading leaves one feeling as if nothing of any more significance occurred than when the pair crossed the Atlantic hundreds of pages back.
As much as the audio book may save one over 700 pages of reading time, it deprives one of the experience of reading Pynchon. Pynchon, to really feel and live the Hamster, must be read, not heard. For all those who do not have the time to read this last great masterpiece of Pynchon, we readers will sympathize for you and can only hope that the master will produce a radio play for you unfortunate folk sometime in the near future.
--Michael Gurnow

MIchael Gurnow
& A. Ruch
6 December 2000

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