Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book 48: V by Thomas Pynchon

I have no idea what this book is about. I was riveted. I have read it twice and still my incomprehension rages along in the current like a glass of tap water dumped into a stretch of rapids.

From 1955 America to Pre World War I Europe, the book seems to take everything that happened in the world from the late 1800's right up to the Civil Rights Movement and slap it on a canvas that at once illuminates and explains but also obscures and destroys history. An exhausting read.

My Dad recommended this book to me. According to him most of Pynchon is over-rated, difficult for the sake of difficult. But he loved this and 'Gravity's Rainbow' which I have yet to tackle. I first dove into 'V' when I was just out of college. At the time I understood less of it than I did when I read it recently.

You know that feeling you have when some small incident in your personal life seems to correspond somehow with a tragedy in the news? A plane crash. A village massacre in Africa. A factory fire in Brazil. For the rest of your life these events are inextricably linked and if someone were to do a cross-section of your emotional life as if you were a time capsule they would believe that you were more connected to that distant nightmare than you actually were.

This is what 'V' is like for me. It triggers all sorts of synaptic responses and they are connected to my actual life. But they are fractured even in the book, loosely strung from disparate locations and occurrences. By the time you have delved far enough into the narrative it is like being trapped in a spider web of your own making. The strands of the web come from outside of you, inside of you, from the book itself, from the real moments in history that the book hints at, from the interior connections that the characters make...until you realize that you are unable to move. That some grand time-spider is inching its way to the center of this self-spun catacomb.

Oh she broke my heart and couldn't I have done things differently? I lost my teddy bear for almost a year and a half and found it in a bush in a gully behind my house. It had weathered a brutal winter of storms. It squeaked when you pushed its belly and in spite of a cold exile that squeak still happens today when I reach into my closet of mementos and push that soft tummy. I ran up and down a street in a suburb of Chicago out of my mind with jealousy and rage until I climbed up a tree in her front yard. I never visited that town again.

Once I was to get on a bus to go see a famous Red Sox player attempt to hit the 400th home run of his career. Yaz. A bus had been arranged to take a crowd of state employees and their children up I-95 to catch this historic event. But the bus broke down somewhere before it got to us and we couldn't go to the game. I walked home crying holding my father's hand and now I am thankful for that mechanical malfunction that gave me a walk with my father.

In a backyard down the street from my house I rounded third base and hustled for home. A throw was coming from the outfield so I slid to escape the tag. My entire left arm swiped right through a huge pile of dogshit and I bounced up, safe at home, and ran off the playing field without a word to my friends and cried the whole way home with a brown smelly arm.

My uncle who died real young drove me around Boston in a school bus. I played with a toy car on the floor of the bus, rolling it around as we rolled around.

An unknown man headed to a bell tower hiding a rifle.

See? These events are lost forever unless I call them back into being. I connect them, they meet in me. And twice now, because my father said so, I have read Thomas Pynchon's 'V'.

And I will read it again someday and remember writing here at my desk, remember that my neck hurt when I did, wishing I were someplace else doing something completely different.


Kim C said...

Gravity's Rainbow -- what you are describing -- similar experience. Fabulous post modern angst...loved it. Now I need to read "V" .... someday.

Brendan O'Malley said...

oh, you gotta read 'V'. wow. and 'gravity's rainbow' is on my list too.