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Mason & Dixon: A Novel Hardcover – April 15, 1997

4 out of 5 stars 172 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A sprawling, complex, and comic work from one of the country's most celebrated and idiosyncratic authors, Mason & Dixon is Thomas Pynchon's Most Magickal reinvention of the 18th-century novel. It follows the lifelong partnership and adventures of the English surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon (of Mason-Dixon Line fame) as they travel the world mapping and measuring through an uncharted pre-Revolutionary America of Native Americans, white settlers, taverns, and bawdy establishments of ill-repute. Fans of the postmodern master of paranoia will recognize Pynchon's personality in the novel's first phrase: "Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs," a brief echo of the rockets that curve across the skies in the writer's masterpiece Gravity's Rainbow.

From Library Journal

The publication of Pynchon's fifth novel is certain to be a highlight of the literary year. To try and summarize it would be an exercise in futility. Like his previous works, this one is complex?much more than a simple, rollicking tale of 18th-century surveyors as they wend their way south (to the Cape of Good Hope) and west (to America, where they drew the line for which they will ever be famous?the boundary that came to define North and South). Indeed, it is this line, this artificial border, that lies at the heart of the novel. When Mason confides to Captain Zhang that the unremitting forest disturbs him, his exotic companion replies that given that Adam and Eve, Buddha and Newton were all enlightened while sitting beneath trees, "A quick review would suggest that Trees produce Enlightenment. Trees are not the Problem. The Forest is not an Agent of Darkness. But it may be your Visto [line] is. ...Nothing will produce Bad History more directly nor brutally, than drawing a line." This belief in the danger of artificial boundaries?be they political, literary, or philosophical?is reflected in the very structure of Pynchon's novels, in his efforts not to let "rules" get in the way of what it is he is trying to say. His novel is often poetic, sometimes tedious, and occasionally arcane. The digressions may temporarily confuse, but the humor is sure to amuse (even Star Trek gets a nod). More accessible than Gravity's Rainbow, this is still not a novel to be read quickly. It is a work that grows on one, and as the reader follows from tree to tree, a forest truly does begin to emerge?with an important message for our "scientific" age. From one of the most unique, thoughtful, and challenging of contemporary authors, a work that is essential for every public and academic library.
-?David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (April 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805037586
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805037586
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 2.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (172 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #108,335 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

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon is a huge, tough book. It is not beach reading. It is, however, very clearly a masterpiece. Without a single throw away line or phrase, this is a book that requires a lot of attention and, perhaps, some preparation to read. A somewhat satirical novel, written in the peculiar style of 18th novelists such as Fielding, the book presents the reader with a number of challenges: conventions of physical presentation (overuse of capitalization, strange abbreviations and variant spellings), sentence complexity (each sentence can contain such a number of clauses and phrases that one can reach the end and have to reread to figure out what modifies what), density of line (each sentence is packed with allusions, puns, jokes as well as whatever it is ostinsibly about), and subject matter (the plot is pretty straight forward but many of the situations and digressions require the reader to have a knowledge of 18th century literature, science, politics and conventions in order to make sense of what is happening).
The story is 'told' by the Rev. Cherrycoke to his twin nephews (named Pitt and Pliney - so they could be called either 'the Elder' or 'the Younger' as one chose) and the narrative's 'point of view' shifts dramatically (and with no warning) so that at times one is 'in' the story and then abruptly back in a room in Philadelphia where the story is being told. You have to pay attention.
The book is full of sly humor and outrageous wordplay. Anachronisms abound. In one scene a character is enjoined to avoid the 'hemp' on his travels, but if he must smoke to not inhale. There are strange scenes that seem to defy any reasonable convention. For example, the L.E.
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Format: Hardcover
Mason and Dixon is another epic Pynchonian tale. As many other reviewers have said, it isn't that easy to read. It takes time and patience and a lot of perserverance, but it is definitely worth it. The basic philosophy of the novel is dualism. There are opposing twins of everything - Mason and Dixon themselves; the stories of Mason and Dixon within that told by Rev Cherrycoke; Cherrycoke's relations, Pliny and Pitt, either Elder or Younger; Northern and Southern states of America; the differing philosophies of the Western world and the Eastern world; the differing attitudes of Art and Science (very much of importance in the 18th century); the Romantic and Gothic; the straight man and the comedian; Johnson and Boswell (who appear at the end and who are foreshadowed by Cherrycoke in the Boswellian role); Britain and America; European philosophy versus Native American philosophy; war and peace - the list goes on. A very good article to read on this is Ken Rosenbaum's in the New York Book Review. He saw this dualism as a metaphor of the zeroes and ones that obsess Pynchon: the hot and cold atoms as sorted by the Maxwell's Demon of CL49, the hot and cold states of America divided by Mason and Dixon. And through it they create the perfect "line" that is neither one nor the other, that exists but doesn't really. Pynchon is interested in the difference between the extremes of life, such as noise and silence, light and dark, being and nothingness. Mason and Dixon has apparently been on Pynchon's mind since the 70s, and it is very much a culmination of his life's obsession.
We have to search the novel for references and echoes. Look at the cover of the book. I'm sure it cannot be a coincidence that the "&" is the main symbol.
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1 Comment 61 of 65 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
I decided to reread this a couple of months ago, just after watching Inherent Vice. The first time I took this book on, I struggled with it. It's not that it isn't brilliant. No one else around can dazzle you with so much wit and wonder. The first encounter with the talking dog is as magical as anything you'll ever read.

And it's not like this is the only Pynchon novel that takes some effort to get into. There are plenty of folks who have had to to take a couple cracks at V or Gravity's Rainbow before catching the wave.

But Mason and Dixon seemed like a lot of work, if for no other reason than the effort it takes dealing with the mid-18th century prose style. (Can you imagine the effort it took to produce it?) John Barth's Sotweed Factor is similar, and yet I had found it more accessible (and is highly recommended!). But not so the second time around. Somehow, I developed a comfort with it I had previously lacked and easily fell into the rhythm of his beautifully styled prose. This stuff is to be savored, not rushed.

Not that the darn thing isn't consistently challenging. There's no denying the patience and energy the reader need to put into it. As before, the beginning and ending flowed most amiably, perhaps with a faster pace with the development and resolution, and a more linear hold on the story's progression. the middle section, the actual construction of "the line", contains something of a fevered meditation on just not a vast new continent's allure and mystery to the European experience, but an expansive exercise in the Western World pagan spirituality that have only been briefly suggested by the likes of William Burroughs and Jim Morrison.
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