From Publishers Weekly
Reviewed by David Kipen. Published 50 years ago by long-gone J.B. Lippincott & Co., Thomas Pynchon's V. wasn't just the best first novel ever, it was a blueprint for his entire career. Much as that book yoyo-ed between an international femme fatale and a feckless contemporary klutz, the Pynchon shelf has alternated between globe-trotting, century-spanning bricks like Gravity's Rainbow (1973), and impish, only slightly historical, California-set bagatelles like Inherent Vice (2009). Now comes Bleeding Edge, a lovably scruffy comedy of remarriage, half-hidden behind the lopsided Groucho mask of Pynchon's second straight private-eye story. Like Ornette Coleman's riff on The Rite of Spring, it starts out strong, misplaces the melody amid some delightfully surreal noodling, and finally swans away in sweet, lingering diminuendo. Almost all Pynchon's books are historical novels, with this one no exception. Where Vineland slyly set a story of Orwellian government surveillance in 1984, Bleeding Edge situates a fable of increasingly sentient computers in, naturally, 2001. Of course, the year 2001 means something besides HAL and Dave now, and Pynchon spirits us through "that terrible morning" in September--and its "infantilizing" aftermath--with unhysterical grace. Our heroine throughout is Maxine Tarnow, a defrocked fraud investigator and daftly doting Manhattan mom, still stuck in that early, "my husband...ex-husband" stage of an unwanted divorce. Maxi soon becomes embroiled in the mysterious case of one Lester Traipse, a superannuated Silicon Alley veteran who, along with the dotcom bubble, has just gotten popped. The plot's dizzying profusion of murder suspects plays like something out of early Raymond Chandler, under whose bright star Bleeding Edge unmistakably unreels. Shoals of red herrings keep swimming by, many of them never seen again. Still, reading Pynchon for plot is like reading Austen for sex. Each page has a little more of it than the one before, but you never quite get to the clincher. Luckily, Pynchon and Austen have ample recourse to the oldest, hardest-to-invoke rule in the book --when in doubt, be a genius. It's cheating, but it works. No one, but no one, rivals Pynchon's range of language, his elasticity of syntax, his signature mix of dirty jokes, dread and shining decency. It's a peculiarity of musical notation that major works are, more often than not, set in a minor key, and vice versa. Bleeding Edge is mellow, plummy, minor-key Pynchon, his second such in a row since Against the Day (2006)--that still-smoking asteroid, whose otherworldly inner music readers are just beginning to tap back at. But in its world-historical savvy, its supple feel for the joys and stings of love--both married and parental--this new book is anything but minor. On the contrary, Bleeding Edge is a chamber symphony in P major, so generous of invention it sometimes sprawls, yet so sharp it ultimately pierces. All this, plus a stripjoint called Joie de Beavre and a West Indian proctologist named Pokemon. Who else does that?David Kipen is the former director of reading initiatives at the National Endowment for the Arts and is the founder of Libros Schmibros, a nonprofit lending library and used bookstore in Los Angeles.
*Starred Review* Pynchon’s debut novel, V., appeared 50 years ago, and ever since he’s been tracking dubious covert actions and the arc and consequences of technology in novels of labyrinthine complexity, impish wit, and open-armed compassion. Of late, his inquiry has taken the form of rambunctious and penetrating crime novels. Inherent Vice (2009), currently being adapted for film, is set in 1960s Los Angeles and features a pothead PI and the launch of the digital revolution. In his latest, a hilarious, shrewd, and disquieting metaphysical mystery, Pynchon expresses love for New York City and leeriness of the seemingly boundless reach of the Internet. In spring 2001, the dot-com bubble has burst and 9/11 looms. Maxine Tarnow, a fraud investigator gone rogue, is unflappable, wise-cracking, Beretta-toting, and Jewish. Devoted to her young sons, she is embroiled in an amorphous case involving a sinister techie billionaire, diverted funds, Islamic terrorists, hip-hop-spouting Russian gangsters, a black-ops agent, a cosmic bike messenger, and a “Deep Web” virtual reality. Fearless, caustic, lightning-witted Maxine (sister to characters created by Sara Paretsky and Cynthia Ozick) instigates some of the funniest banter ever scripted. But amid the sharp hilarity of this exuberantly maze-like, pop-culture-peppered, deeply informed tale, Pynchon incisively and cuttingly broaches unanswered questions surrounding the tragedy of 9/11 and elucidates just how profoundly life has changed in its wake.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Pynchon is a magnet for media attention and reader fervency, and this New York mystery will exert a powerful pull. --Donna Seaman