By Thomas Pynchon
Few novelists have the paradoxical ability to make readers feel smart and stupid at the same time. Thomas Pynchon has been pulling off this virtuoso feat for several decades, especially since the publication of Gravity’s Rainbow, his watershed masterpiece, which, quite honestly, he never topped. His most recent work, Bleeding Edge, examines the early 21st century, from the burst of the dot com bubble to the horrifying events of September 11. I have not, even to this day, ever read an uninteresting Pynchon novel.
Not to sound evasive, but Pynchon’s novels tend to defy synopsis. This conundrum exists primarily because he writes about not only a significant era in our history, but how that era fits into American identity. Briefly, it is a pseudo-noir concerning a private detective, Maxine Tarnow, and her quest to do something. Essentially she is trying to investigate the bookkeeping of a shadowy software company.
As with most Pynchon books, it starts out as one thing and ends up something completely different. Whether genius or short-sighted I am not sure, but when 9-11 occurs mid-book, almost as an anticlimactic afterthought, I have to wonder.
Like most of his novels, Pynchon does not stick to one genre, or even one style of prose. On the surface, Bleeding Edge is a detective story. Beneath I hear the whisper of Tom Wolf, Claud Cockburn, and Seinfeld. Pynchon has an incredible knack for the pop culture allusion.
And it is funny. On occasion. Seeing Pynchon poke fun at Friends or reference an opera is always entertaining. But Pynchon is sometimes so obviously self-aware it looks less and less like cleverness and more and more like smugness.
I have always respected Thomas Pynchon, read anything and everything he ever published, and have never regretted any of his books. Even this one. Sometimes Pynchon is too intelligent for his own good, but if that is the greatest sin an author commits, I am more than happy to absolve him. Verdict: on the charge of incandescent brilliance, smugness, and entertainment: guilty as charged. Sentenced to a wonderful time read.