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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

Gravity’s Rainbow

Gravity’s Rainbow
Thomas Pynchon
Gravity's Rainbow
I once read a description of Gravity’s Rainbow that called it “less complicated than Ulysses.” The comparison, I think, is apt. After 750 pages, it’s very difficult to say what Gravity’s Rainbow is about. Drugs, lust, rockets, Pavlov, paranoia, and song are all prominent. But I wouldn’t say that it’s about any of those things. Characters enter the story and then disappear. Plot lines start and stop abruptly. Motifs are introduced and forgotten. The whole book is one long string of non-sequiters. And it’s the non-sequiters that are interesting — not so much the story as a whole, which is virtually indiscernible.
Gravity's Rainbow
I was actually first asked to read this book for a class when I was an undergraduate. At the time, I didn’t get through it. No so much out of lack of interest, but more because of lack of time. It’s not exactly a zippy read that you can just skim through. And having gone back to it, and having done some background reading this time, I am disappointed to find out that Pynchon is an actual person. The first time that I had read Gravity’s Rainbow, that question was still much in dispute. Wilder theories claimed that he was actually J.D. Salinger; tamer ones suspected him of being an English professor in Southern Florida. To the disappointment of conspiracy theorists, he turns out just to be a regular guy who doesn’t much like uninvited company. He turned down a medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and despite the unanimous vote of the judges to give Gravity’s Rainbow the Nobel Prize in literature in 1974, the decision was overturned by the Nobel advisory board, who described the novel as “obscene.”
It is.
On the other hand, there could still be conspiracy at work. What better way to avoid the public eye than to build a convenient and boring alter ego? What better way to settle suspicions of conspiracy than to demonstrate publicly that there is no conspiracy? And so I prefer to disbelieve the resolution, and to maintain the fanciful. Who is Thomas Pynchon, and how much does he know? It’s a question more interesting left unanswered.

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