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Gravity's Rainbow (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) Paperback – October 31, 2006
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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?) and enjoy Pynchon's jokes, which are laugh-out-loud funny.
4. Don't give up too early...I don't want to say that Gravity's Rainbow gets off to a slow start, but it has a lot of scene-setting to do, and the engine that really drives the book along only gets revved up in part 2. Part 1 is a well-executed minor key portrait of wartime London, but part 2 is where the drugs kick in, so stick with the novel at least that far.
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.
So is it the Emperor's New Clothes, or Pearls Before Swine?
It doesn't matter. The question is probably meaningless anyway.
If you like incredibly obscure cultural references, if you like dense imagery, if you like chilling portrayals of paranoia and the dire consequences to humans when people with power succumb to it and if you like conspiracy theory, you'll dig this book.
I do, so I did.
On the other hand, if you're hung up on little things like narrative structure, characterization, plot, etc., I'd stay away.
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!!!