The Good: Funny, impressive in scope, brilliant in character!
The Bad: Twisted plot, hugely winding sentences
The Basics: High recommendations for the serious reader, Gravity's Rainbow is not for the literarily feint-of-heart. It is an investment, but a worthy one, of your attentions.
Gravity's Rainbow is one of those post-modern novels that seems like way too much and in a lot of ways, it is. Thomas Pynchon doesn't do short. His books are long, his sentences are long, his scope is enormous.
Gravity's Rainbow is the diction-powered epic of Tyrone Slothrope and about 85 other characters. It's hard to say just what happens in the novel because it's a dense book. It's also interesting, filled with a lot of humor, satire, and more than anything a deep appreciation for the English language.
Gravity's Rainbow is the meandering hunt for Rocket 00000 in World War 2. The protagonist, Tyrone Slothrope, is surrounded by a supporting cast of weird characters including an insane General, a seductress and an entire array of sexual fetishists. While Slothrope's sexual exploits seem connected to the location of Rocket 00000, the connection seems to be vague.
The thing about Gravity's Rainbow is, the novel never seems to latch onto actually searching. The best way to describe Pynchon's narrative style is in cinematic terms. Pynchon has a habit of focusing on one character, following them around and then panning abruptly to another character in the shot and following them for a while. And he doesn't necessarily come back to the original subject.
Instead of a concrete plot, what often happens is that Slothrope will head in one direction and someone near him will come into focus. In that moment, Pynchon - as the author - will latch onto them. Much of the novel seems to be almost extraneous backstory of characters who have minimal time in the book. Once the reader understands that, the novel becomes a pleasure, instead of a difficulty, to read. The key is to enjoy the trip.
Our temptation is to say that the novel is about Tyrone Slothrope, but that's not fair to the majesty of the novel. Gravity's Rainbow is often a trip through World War II that utilizes history and fiction in a convincing blend that tells a tale about how people relate and how they desperately go about meeting their needs. In fact, the sexual fetishes that are exhibited throughout the novel aren't simply gratuitous or shocking. Instead, they explore the need of humans and the contact they seek to relate.
The impressive thing about this is that the novel does come together in its own way and Pynchon packs in so very much information about the characters. The sheer number of details he provides about the fetishes, experiences and relationships between the characters is impressive.
This is not a novel for the feint of heart or those who do not like to be challenged. This is a dense work. Unlike Finnegan's Wake, though, this is a long piece that ultimately goes somewhere and says something.
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© 2010, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.