Have you bought your kids’ Halloween costumes yet? This being my first time, I hadn’t realized you were supposed to have that all taken care of well before Labor Day. I’ll write it down in my calendar for next July.I have made it—almost—to page 1000 of Against the Day, though. (For those not familiar, that’s not a typo. I did mean to write one thousand.) No matter how much you’re enjoying a book, to still be reading it months and months after you’ve begun, and to feel you’re making no headway at all, to judge by how much closer you are to the end, can be daunting. It begins to feel like an assignment: like a work task that you’d thought would be just the thing you’d like doing best, but that you now just wish would be over already. I might not feel the same way if I picked it up only for a couple of hours on the weekend, but then it would feel as if I’d never get through it, and actually I don’t have a couple of two- or three-hour blocks each week. So I read for fifteen minutes or half an hour every few days.
I think I’ve reached the point where Pynchon has finally become Pynchon. By Pynchon I mean the writer who—in spite of the hippy stuff, and the nerdy stuff, and the funny names, and the improbable plots—really celebrates sitting on the front porch of a house in a Good Place to Live, with someone you love, and a bottle of wine or a beer, and living in the present. This is the life that’s always to denied to his characters who’ve gotten caught up in the Cold War and post-Cold War System. I don’t know if any of his people ever approaches as close to this ideal as the Traverses do. But even if it was unattainable (though approachable, asymptotically, appropriately enough), the ideal was always present. In Against the Day, I think, it has only appeared at the end. And I had really been savoring its absence.
This is the first of Pynchon’s novels that I’m reading at about the time it first appeared. It’s the first of his novels that I’m reading after having read enough other, more or less similar novels to make sense of it. The absence of that theme I’d just described was enough to make me question whether I’d misread his earlier books, in fact, whether finding the hobbits safe home in Bag-End wasn’t as important to them as it had seemed to me at the time. Now, I find myself wondering whether the new stuff I thought I’d seen in this novel was really there—whether the passages I’d mentally marked for re-reading are worth the bother.
So, is that all there is? What about the ways in which this one appeared to be different, for the one thousand pages up to this point? It’s a long slog of a book to go through it all again, unless you were an English major and you reflexively outline everything you read (indexed, because you learned that skill in the pre-computer age). Frank Traverse’s sketchy adventures in coffee bean engineering are interesting, but his repetitive yet never-repeated-twice pseudo-spiritual insights are getting on my nerves; I get it, already, and I’m ready to say goodbye. Should an annoying last fifth of the book end up overbalancing hundreds of pages that I found especially, if intermittently, delightful?I’ve been finding it surprisingly difficult to find time and mental energy just to draft blog posts even on topics where I know exactly what I want to say and the order I want to say it, much less to revise and rewrite (I remember reading a young journalist whose dad is also a journalist solemnly advise his online readership that this is the only way to write for the public, so I’m self-conscious). More to come, eventually