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Against the Day Paperback – October 30, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Knotty, paunchy, nutty, raunchy, Pynchon's first novel since Mason & Dixon (1997) reads like half a dozen books duking it out for his, and the reader's, attention. Most of them shine with a surreal incandescence, but even Pynchon fans may find their fealty tested now and again. Yet just when his recurring themes threaten to become tics, this perennial Nobel bridesmaid engineers another never-before-seen phrase, or effect, and all but the most churlish resistance collapses. It all begins in 1893, with an intrepid crew of young balloonists whose storybook adventures will bookend, interrupt and sometimes even be read by, scores of at least somewhat more realistic characters over the next 30 years. Chief among these figures are Colorado anarchist Webb Traverse and his children: Kit, a Yale- and Göttingen-educated mathematician; Frank, an engineer who joins the Mexican revolution; Reef, a cardsharp turned outlaw bomber who lands in a perversely tender ménage à trois; and daughter Lake, another Pynchon heroine with a weakness for the absolute wrong man. Psychological truth keeps pace with phantasmagorical invention throughout. In a Belgian interlude recalling Pynchon's incomparable Gravity's Rainbow, a refugee from the future conjures a horrific vision of the trench warfare to come: "League on league of filth, corpses by the uncounted thousands." This, scant pages after Kit nearly drowns in mayonnaise at the Regional Mayonnaise Works in West Flanders. Behind it all, linking these tonally divergent subplots and the book's cavalcade of characters, is a shared premonition of the blood-drenched doomsday just about to break above their heads. Ever sympathetic to the weak over the strong, the comradely over the combine (and ever wary of false dichotomies), Pynchon's own aesthetic sometimes works against him. Despite himself, he'll reach for the portentous dream sequence, the exquisitely stage-managed weather, some perhaps not entirely digested historical research, the "invisible," the "unmappable"—when just as often it's the overlooked detail, the "scrawl of scarlet creeper on a bone-white wall," a bed partner's "full rangy nakedness and glow" that leaves a reader gutshot with wonder. Now pushing 70, Pynchon remains the archpoet of death from above, comedy from below and sex from all sides. His new book will be bought and unread by the easily discouraged, read and reread by the cult of the difficult. True, beneath the book's jacket lurks the clamor of several novels clawing to get out. But that rushing you hear is the sound of the world, every banana peel and dynamite stick of it, trying to crowd its way in, and succeeding. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

The Seattle Times sums up critical reaction to Against the Day best: "Like Bruegel's painting 'Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,' this is a portrait of mankind's attempt to transcend our mortality—or at least push up against its very edge." Thomas Pynchon's previous novels, including V., The Crying of Lot 49,and Gravity's Rainbow, tested boundaries as well—not only of our own human understanding but of the fiction craft itself. This newest offering contains familiar elements—a whimsical humor, an erudite intellect, leftist ideals, and a sense of historical logic. Despite its magnificence, however, Against the Day tested most reviewers' patience (especially Michiko Kakutani's). The novel's length, digressions, and intellectual complexity will not please everyone, but those who stick with it are, well, probably smarter than the rest of us.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1104 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (October 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143112562
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143112563
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.7 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #222,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

After all, the book is massive and took a good 5-6 months for me to read.
Pendleton the 3rd
All of the great drama of human life is here -- but it's told in the signature, detached Pynchon style.
Daniel M. Conley
If you are going to read a Pynchon book, you are going to have to take it slow and do some homework.
Scott George

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

327 of 344 people found the following review helpful By Daniel M. Conley on November 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The temptation with a huge novel like "Against The Day" is to read it at breakneck speed. Pynchon discourages readers from that option early, signalling within the first 60 pages that this is going to be a tale of many characters, many narrative lines, at times realistic, at others fantastic, often rooted in history, at other times unquestionably about the present. For such a mysterious writer, Pynchon's influences are well known and fully on display here -- the Western scenes evoke Oakley Hall's "Warlock", the discussions of anarchy jibe with Pynchon's own reading (misreading?) of Orwell's "1984", allusions to "Finnegans Wake" are everywhere (even in the name of the comical adventure troop the Chums of Chance.)

The book was savaged by some critics with a notable air of self-pity ... oh it's so long, oh it's so meandering, oh I didn't bother to finish it. Yes, there are major reviews in major American publications where paid critics admitted to skimming over most of the last 300 pages. A crime and a pity, because it's only in the last few hundred pages where "Against The Day" fully reveals itself.

Critics (and readers) who enter this journey with hard and fast rules of what a novel should (or must) be are warned here ... you may very well hate it. Pynchon's characterizations can be muddled at time -- it took a second reading with the help of the superb audiobook (I don't know if they give Grammys for audiobook performances, but Dick Hill's is outstanding and worthy of some kind of award) for me to fully appreciate the cavalcade of characters. There is no central character, no central plot, but there are a multitude of character arcs and human interactions that I found heartbreaking.
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142 of 149 people found the following review helpful By Heavy Theta on November 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Opinions vary, but the numerous reviews that were produced at the time of this books release will likely be long forgotten by the time most folks actually make their way through this thing. One guesses that these reviewers must have felt pretty agitated being put in a position of having to rush through over a thousand pages of Pynchonian sophistication in the short time they had from receiving their pre-release copies to the start of the holidays. So in a rush to speed read through the thing's numerous characters, and overlapping and not always synchronous plots, and, mainly, the detail points of social and scientific abstractions that abound, seemed an unwelcome nuisance to deadlines for last weekends book section.

Taken at a more leisurely pace, this novel is, in fact, very accommodating, especially compared to the delightful, but verbage challenging Mason Dixon. Far from the blur of comically named stereotypes that have been alleged, the characters are more than adequately drawn with sufficient depth, if not to the unusual (for him) affection that Pynchon displayed for the aforementioned boundary makers.

The accessibility of the book also comes from a consistent level of humor, more droll than uproarious compared to his earlier work. It is this consistency of observation and discourse that makes Against the Day stand out from all that has proceeded it. In a way, it seems somewhat reminiscent of the stylistic change that Melville produced in The Confidence Man that distinguished it from the dramas that proceeded. Like the new novel here, there is a constant motion to the story as the focus changes from on character to the next, producing a works that are more esoteric than heart-wrenching.

Is too much of a good thing bad?
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69 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Holden on January 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I'll be the first one to admit that I'm a radical Pynchonophile. And I'll be the first to admit that Pynchon is not for everyone; reading his books requires patience, an eclectic sum of knowledge (or the willingness to browse through an encyclopedia), and the ability to, every so often, accept that you will never fully penetrate the mysteries that the author creates. Against the Day is no exception.

Yet the Pynchon of Against the Day is not the Pynchon of Gravity's Rainbow. 33 years ago, that Pynchon was loading every page with deep emotion, fear and paranoia in a sort of urgent desperation. Now, this latest book contains many of the same themes that have followed Pynchon throughout his long career, yet with much more refinement, finesse and subtlety than ever before. The plot is more complex than any of Pynchon's earlier works, but also (strangely enough) easier to follow than the last part of 'Gravity's Rainbow' or even some of the disjointed flashbacks of 'V.'

The plot itself, like any Pynchon novel, is secondary to the themes of the novel, the mood that is created, the sheer weirdness of a Pynchonian world. It involves the murder of a Colorado anarchist, a group of 5 boys traveling the world in a balloon conducting secret missions, academic competition in early 20th century Germany, time travelers from the future, and the evil plans of a corporate tycoon. Sideplots and tangents include a journey inside a hollow earth, an attempted murder using mayonnaise, the search for a mythical central Asian city, and a group of magicians touring Europe.
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