Saturday, February 24, 2007

ATD reviewed 100 years from now

What with other reading, work, the weather, etc., I've been taking a break from Pynchon's intimidating Against the Day (I've always been terrible with huge books), but have been looking for a spark to get me started again. I figure this review from 100 years from now -- via Garth at The Millions -- should help. Some snippets:
The year is 2107. Thomas Pynchon is, not surprisingly, well-represented on bookshelves. Still in print, still read. Thanks in no small part to the late-period efflorescence of Mason & Dixon, (and of course the extraordinary seventh and eighth novels), the man is now recognized as one of the 20 or 30 Great American Voices: tough and tender, erudite and foolish, and oddly, it turns out, elegiac.


Ultimately, the inhabitants of the future will read Pynchon for the same reason people did back in 2007: because he does exactly what the hell it wants to. In this way, Against the Day is very much of a piece with his previous books. Though it may not be as structurally sound as Gravity's Rainbow, it is certainly as imaginative. And if it lacks some of the depth of Mason & Dixon's title characters, it builds on that book's ethical maturity, laying out a vision of right and wrong for the post-utopian age it turns out we're all living in. To tax Against the Day with plotlessness or bloat, as some reviewers apparently did once upon a time, is like berating an overstuffed couch for not being an Eames chair. To assess it as a failure is itself a failure. We may not reread Against the Day annually, or even read it twice, but no fan of Pynchon - and there are many of us, still - will regret a month spent in the company of this anarchic, capacious book.
Now I just have to find that spare month.


Blue Wren said...

I've got the spare month, but find myself lacking the right sort of brain cells needed to keep up with ATD. I read a couple of pages, my brain starts hurting, and I stop. The images he conjures remain, but I know that I am woefully inadequate to the task. Against the Day sits by my favorite reading chair, crooking a finger at me, but I pass it by. "Not today," I say. Perhaps ... when I'm brainier.

t.s. said...

Page 320 and counting. The folks at the Pynchon listserv are doing a group read right now, and I'm getting much more out of the book with their insights.

Dr Diablo said...

Spare lifetime is more like it. While setting a book aside at page 37 is more like quitting than taking a break, you shouldn't blame yourself, MadGuy. The fault resides not in you but in the turgid, turbid tome itself. Like Finnegan's Wake, Against the Day is a work which compels us to admire not only its author but its handful of readers.

Myself, I'm just finishing Snobbery: The American Version by Joseph Epstein. Epstein makes an interesting subject surprisingly dull.

Epstein's only acknowledgement, printed on its own page and esentially a dedication, is of the music of Fats Waller, "which I listened to almost constantly for the past two years." You know right away you're dealing with a prick, since most of us could not find continuing inspiration in that estimable music for two straight years. Epstein disarmingly says that he doesn't want to appear free of the petty aspirations of snobbery, so he hesitantly confesses to such foibles as owning sports cars, chumming with Saul Bellow, and savoring fine leather goods, among many other things. In other words, the book is crammed with boasts disguised as confessions. Epstein lists historical luminaries with whom he wishes he could have lunch, but diffidently notes that they might not reciprocate. Well, even I don't want to have lunch with the former Editor of The American Scholar. Let's face it, lunch with Epstein for you and three of your friends will never be the Grand Prize in any conceivable contest.

Still, the book is a pleasantly readable survey of the various forms of snobbery in contemporary America, and I won't need a spare month to finish it. And not to sound like the cock o'the walk here, but I didn't ask for it for Christmas. I got it from the library, so its only cost to me is the fines I am now accruing. While it won't take me a month to finish it, it did take me a month to start it, as I was put off by that dedication. Geez, prosaic clod that I am, I dedicated my thesis to my grandparents when I could have dedicated it to Joe DiMaggio or Eubie Blake.

Madison Guy said...

Acually, Dr. Diablo, I've blown way past page 37. My bookmark is at an anarchist meeting where they are singing a song from the Workers' Own Songbook:

Fierce as the winter's tempest
Cold as the smoth'ring snow
On grind the mills of Avarice
High rides the cruel-eyed foe....
Where is the hand of mercy,
Where is the kindly face,
Where in this heedless slaughter
Find we the promis'd place?