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Gravity's Rainbow Paperback – January 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

Tyrone Slothrop, a GI in London in 1944, has a big problem. Whenever he gets an erection, a Blitz bomb hits. Slothrop gets excited, and then (as Thomas Pynchon puts it in his sinister, insinuatingly sibilant opening sentence), "a screaming comes across the sky," heralding an angel of death, a V-2 rocket. The novel's title, Gravity's Rainbow, refers to the rocket's vapor arc, a cruel dark parody of what God sent Noah to symbolize his promise never to destroy humanity again. History has been a big trick: the plan is to switch from floods to obliterating fire from the sky.

Slothrop's father was an unwitting part of the cosmic doublecross. To provide for the boy's future Harvard education, he took cash from the mad German scientist Laszlo Jamf, who performed Pavlovian experiments on the infant Tyrone. Laszlo invented Imipolex G, a new plastic useful in rocket insulation, and conditioned Tyrone's privates to respond to its presence. Now the grown-up Tyrone helplessly senses the Imipolex G in incoming V-2s, and his military superiors are investigating him. Soon he is on the run from legions of bizarre enemies through the phantasmagoric horrors of Germany.

That's just the Imipolex G tip of the shrieking vehicle that is Pynchon's book. It's pretty much impossible to follow a standard plot; one must have faith that each manic episode is connected with the great plot to blow up the world with the ultimate rocket. There is not one story, but a proliferation of characters (Pirate Prentice, Teddy Bloat, Tantivy Mucker-Maffick, Saure Bummer, and more) and events that tantalize the reader with suggestions of vast patterns only just past our comprehension. You will enjoy Pynchon's cartoon inferno far more if you consult Steven Weisenburger's brief companion to the novel, which sorts out Pynchon's blizzard of references to science, history, high culture, and the lowest of jokes. Rest easy: there really is a simple reason why Kekulé von Stradonitz's dream about a serpent biting its tail (which solved the structure of the benzene molecule) belongs in the same novel as the comic-book-hero Plastic Man.

Pynchon doesn't want you to rest easy with solved mysteries, though. Gravity's Rainbow uses beautiful prose to induce an altered state of consciousness, a buzz. It's a trip, and it will last. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


Novel by Thomas Pynchon, published in 1973. The sprawling narrative comprises numerous threads having to do either directly or tangentially with the secret development and deployment of a rocket by the Nazis near the end of World War II. Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop is an American working for Allied Intelligence in London. Agents of the Firm, a clandestine military organization, are investigating an apparent connection between Slothrop's erections and the targeting of incoming V-2 rockets. As a child, Slothrop was the subject of experiments conducted by a Harvard professor who is now a Nazi rocket scientist. Slothrop's quest for the truth behind these implications leads him on a nightmarish journey of either historic discovery or profound paranoia, depending on his own and the reader's interpretation. The novel won the National Book Award for fiction in 1974. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century
  • Paperback: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Later Printing edition (January 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140283382
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140283389
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (457 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #471,845 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Thomas Pynchon was born in 1937. His books include The Crying of Lot 49, Gravity's Rainbow, Vineland, and Mason & Dixon.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

917 of 933 people found the following review helpful By William McNeill on February 2, 2003
Format: Paperback
Gravity's Rainbow is a book you either love or hate, and if you hate it it's probably because you couldn't finish the ... thing. Though by no means impenetrable, the novel is daunting enough to merit a list of tips for those wishing to tackle it for the first time. Below is my advice on how new readers can get over the hump. Trust me, it's a small hump, and the masterpiece that lies on the other side is worth the effort.
1. Read V first... Pynchon's V is shorter and more accessible than Gravity's Rainbow, but addresses the same themes in a similar style. If you enjoyed V, you will have built up a reserve of goodwill for Pynchon that will carry you through the initial rough patches of Gravity's Rainbow. This advice was given to me years ago, and I'm glad I took it.
2. Accept that you won't understand everything...Don't be concerned if you can't follow the many digressions or keep track of every minor character that pops up. As with other famously difficult novels, Gravity's Rainbow's real payoff comes in the rereading, so you shouldn't feel obliged to linger over each passage until it makes sense. Pynchon isn't trying to lord it over you by writing a book this dense; it's just his way of giving you your money's worth. Just follow what you can the first time through, which fortunately is a lot.
3. Accentuate the accessible...Gravity's Rainbow's unreadability is over-hyped. Yes, there are many jarring digressions, but threading through them is a fairly conventional detective story. Sure there are lyrical passages that take off for the stratosphere, but they are grace notes in a melody of otherwise breezy narrative prose. So on your first time through, it's enough to follow the main plot (will Slothrop find the mysterious Rocket 00000?
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262 of 277 people found the following review helpful By on August 12, 1997
Format: Paperback
There are a number of reasons one might write a review of a book. Most of these reasons aren't all that helpful when it comes to Gravity's Rainbow.
One reason is to provide potential readers with a sense of the book (plot, structure, style, characterization). The best way to get a sense of Gravity's Rainbow is to read the first page. It basically goes on like that for another seven or eight hundred more.
Another reason is to enlighten the world with your sparkling insight into the subtlties of symbolism and layers of meaning in the book. With regard to Gravity's Rainbow, you can save that stuff for your weekly book club. The symbolism and layered meaning in GR are about as subtle as a rocket attack on a movie theater. This is why GR is often compared to Finnegan's Wake. If you've ever watched Joseph Campbell explain that novel, you realize that the search for deep intellectual insight is a conceit. These novels require your best effort just to understand the LITERAL stuff.
Another reason to review a book is to provide your own subjective opinion about the overall quality of the experience. I've found that many such GR reviews fall into one of two camps: "I read 'X' pages and couldn't/didn't finish it" or "Thomas Pynchon is God". The problem with reviews like this is that they say more about the meta-experience (sorry, but that is the appropriate word) of reading the book than they do about the book itself. Those of us who finish it are subject to a kind of "Iron John" machismo which falls apart if we are forced to admit that the whole thing might be a colossal put-on. On the other hand, those who give up can't help feeling that perhaps they are missing the big IT and don't like feeling that they might be unable to appreciate genius.
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180 of 192 people found the following review helpful By PPN on March 15, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Reading Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow is hard enough without deletions, typos, and occasional rewording of the authors original work. But that's what you get with this so-called "Deluxe Edition" put out by Penguin in 2006.

Starting GR I realized I wasn't getting the full story (even though this is Pynchon), so I borrowed a 1973 edition and started comparing it to my Penguin "Deluxe Edition". Within the first 100 pages I found at least a dozen typos, rewordings, and just plain deletions.

An example, pp. 139-140, last sentence:

...Your task, in the dreams, is often to [cross under the trees through the shadows before something hap] pens.

The portion in the brackets is totally absent in this copy. Deletions like this make for a completely incomprehensible novel and ruin the author's work.

Note that my rating doesn't reflect my opinion of GR, just the "Deluxe Edition" Penguin has put forth (2006 ed.). Frankly, Penguin's QA/proofing department should be ashamed for putting out such a turd.

For the love of the Mistress of the Night, please, avoid this edition!!!
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127 of 134 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
Gravity's Rainbow probably gets a more outrageously diverse set of responses than any other book by a living author; it's supposed to be either a brilliant, compendious, funny, tragic novel about war, modernity and history or a stupid, slack, paranoid rant by a burnt-out (probable) druggy. The first time I read it it took me nine months, and when I'd finished I didn't know what had happened, but I knew I'd had the most amazing ride of my life along the way. The second time took me four weeks (it's a long book) and this time, it revealed itself as a masterpiece. (Well, Nabokov always said that you only read a book properly the second time around.) Ignore the begrudgers; never mind who Pynchon is supposed to be "better" or "worse" than; don't worry about not understanding all of it first go. Pynchon is one of the most intelligent and well-read novelists of all time, more so than you or I, but he has a rock'n'roll heart; nobody else can leap from zoot-suited craziness to rocket chemistry to diving down a toilet in search of a lost harmonica (twenty years before Trainspotting, kids) to minutely researched accounts of genocide and still keep littering his wildly elastic prose with daft little songs. There were probably people in ancient Greece who thought that Homer was an untalented driveller, too. Ignore them. Dive in. Enjoy. The last page is a killer.
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