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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Gravity's Rainbow

There was no Pulitzer Prize for Fiction awarded in 1974, despite the fact that the judges for that award unanimously selected Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.  Pulitzer's advisory committee decided that it was better if there was no winner.  There was no formal statement, but apparently during deliberations words used to describe the work included "unreadable", "turgid", "overwritten", and "obscene".  Gravity's Rainbow did share the National Book Award and its reputation among critics seems to have only improved over time.  I side with the advisory committee.

Gravitys rainbow cover.jpg

Gravity's Rainbow is mainly set at the end of World War II and is, in its most general sense, about various intelligence agents trying to uncover information about a mysterious device to be installed in a V-2 rocket.  Tyrone Slothrop is the member of the book's 400+ character cast that comes to closest to being a protagonist.  The novel generally follows Slothrop's sexual exploits, which seem to presage rocket strikes within a few days wherever they take place.  One purported explanation of this phenomenon is truly creepy psychological conditioning as an infant utilizing sexual feedback mechanisms.  I described that as clinically as I could because the actual content of the book on this matter genuinely disturbed me.  I had flashbacks to my feelings while reading Lolita.

Beyond that, Gravity's Rainbow is another in what I've come to describe as the Infinite Jest category of books.  When I read this novel, it felt like it was far more important for the author to impress critics with an avant garde style than to convey a story or meaning to readers.  At least that's the way I justify my inability to appreciate certain works that are considered great literature.  It's very possible that I'm just too uncultured or lack the requisite literary skills to appreciate greatness.

Gravity's Rainbow is a bizarre book.  I don't think there's any real disagreement on that.  But I also think it's terrible.  I found the book incredibly redundant and feel it inundates the reader with unnecessary characters that add nothing.  Instead of providing a meaningful counterpoint to the horrors of war, the humor falls flat and the book comes across as callus and juvenile.  In case it wasn't incredibly clear already, I would not recommend this book.

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