The Good: Poetics of the writing, Lucid passages that make sense.
The Bad: Jumbled plot assembly, No characters to strongly empathize with, Long passages of boring writing/events
The Basics: Even as a fan of the works of Thomas Pynchon, I cannot find enough value in Against The Day to recommend it, much less waste my time writing about it.
The only thing worse than investing years of free time in reading a book by a favored author who asks the reader for some trust with their work is when that trust is betrayed. With the works of Thomas Pynchon, Pynchon frequently asks his readers to trust him with the way his narratives meander around anything remotely approaching a structured plot, interesting characters or, lacking that, a point at all. Pynchon has earned my trust in the past because despite his wending and waffling, his books tended to have a beautiful poetry to the language or a purpose I could respect.
Against The Day does not.
I think the best statement I could make on the subject of Against The Day is that when the novel was released in softcover in 2007, I eagerly spent some money to buy a copy. I just this morning finished the 1085 page book and in the worst tradition of literary crap, I have no idea what it was I just read. Seriously. I have not been this disappointed since Finnegan’s Wake (reviewed here!).
Even though it is pointless to bother with such things as a plot description, here goes: Against The Day loosely follows the crew of the airship Inconvenience and its crew, the Chums Of Chance, flying around the world. Evading mysterious adversaries (who may just be a rumor) and doing nothing in particular while soaring around, the Chums Of Chance get into trouble pretty much wherever they land. The book takes massive detours for the story of a dynamiting anarchist and how one of the people who killed him married his daughter and the mathematical cabal known as the Quaternionists.
Not bound together by any set, stable, groups of characters, Against The Day wobbles along, meandering from one adventure to the next with people only marginally related to the characters previously presented until it soars off into an utterly unsatisfying end.
On the website I used to write reviews for (where I was when I began reading Against The Day, come to think of it!), length was rewarded more than substance. I suspect that the editors at Penguin Publishing, which released Against The Day, had the same idea. But for evaluating Against The Day, brevity might be best. Despite poetic or amusing moments like Pynchon’s poignant observation of “It was the U.S.A., after all, and fear was in the air” (373), Against The Day is largely unmemorable and unworthy the attention of readers looking for enjoyment or insight into the human condition (though later on that same page, Pynchon’s Wolfe makes a beautiful statement on outsiders).
Lacking a narrative that engrosses, a statement that Pynchon has not made before, interesting characters, or any original form compared to his other works, Thomas Pynchon’s Against The Day is a bloated waste of time, life, and paper.
For other works by Thomas Pynchon, please check out my reviews of:
The Crying Of Lot 49
Mason & Dixon
For other book reviews, be sure to check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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