Customer Reviews: Slow Learner
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on July 11, 1998
For those who find Thomas Pynchon frighteningly intimidating (and who doesn't?), a perusal of these stories will quickly bring The Man down a few notches where you can be certain that he once (once, long ago) was human.
The stories, presented chronologically, are also a testimonial to an astounding learning curve, a man who in very little time learned from his mistakes. And there are mistakes: at times you may find yourself chuckling at the young Pynchon's overwriting or callow viewpoints. Yet these are still the works of a budding genius (my favourite, bar none!) and there glimpses aplenty.
But don't buy the book for the stories alone! No no no! The candid introduction by Pynchon is the real gem here and, for all those Pynchonites, worth the price of admission.
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on October 30, 2004
I've read The Crying of Lot 49, as well as material about Pynchon, so expected a tough read, but found this collection of short stories surprisingly light, although the final story was excellent, thoughtful, and moving. As for the introduction, mentioned by someone as the worth of this book, he is nearly right, as it was an absolute pleasure to read, both light and witty; it wa so good that at times I simultaneously laughed and cried.
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on January 11, 2007
Well I am pleased that I finished another Pynchon work. Having read V., The Crying of Lot 49, and now Slow Learner-I have avoided the gigantic Gravity's Rainbow, which comes after 49 in order, mostly out of intimidation...

Slow Learner seems to have been produced out of a public interest in Pynchon, perhaps out of the void of 10 years since Rainbow, as something to give us all, ever awed by his labrinthine worlds and layered stories.

Though made up of five stories written from 1959-1964, and published in the Cornell Writer, New World Writing, the Kenyon Review, The Noble Savage 3 and The Saturday Evening Post, there is a sixth tale, the introduction, in which Pynchon shares his analysis and criticism of his works and his earlier self. It is a terrific piece, and suits the experience by pre-empting the stories' weaknesses with his exposure of them.

Without going into them I'll just say that I enjoyed the first three very much, The Small Rain, Low-lands and Entropy. Entropy in particular was a layered, manic visceral fiction that manages to incorporate meta-physics with phychology and neurosis. I did not like Under the Rose, as I found it confusing, pre-occupied with itself and it's twists and I couldn't get into it's rhythm and so finished it in bunches. The glaring aspects of his style become annoyances here, the bizarre names, the digressions into the past, elaborate memories...The Secret Integration though is clearly his most mature, skillful work, with a haunting conclusion that resonates deeply.

I feel the better for reading these works. I know he is a master of sorts, his style and execution are awesome, as well his reputation shrowded in mystery. I recommend this book....
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VINE VOICEon February 11, 2008
I agree with other reviewers that the fun of this book lies in Pynchon's thoughts of these early efforts. It made the reading of them much more enjoyable. It also made them seem better then they really were, since I realized they were not to be judged in the same light as his later works. So, the fifth star was for his honesty.

This is a recommended read for any reader interested in the entire works of Pynchon.
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on June 27, 2012
The first paragraph of the introduction is almost worth the price of the collection. For the person who has not read Thomas Pynchon, it is a first class review of what his work is like. The humor and seriousness are there, tempered with a bit of Sci-Fi whimsy. But the way that he takes the stories apart and shows what is missing, is a lesson for any budding writer. This book should be taught in many writing classes. I particularily love when he disses himself for creating a rule of writing and makes himself follow it. (The list of writers who do this very thing, is a long, long list!) I also love his comment that he was showing off his "Ear" (For dialogue) before he had actually attained one.

It is nice that he left these stories in the condition that he found them, but I can't help but wonder what might have happened if he had revised or revisited them now as a master of his craft. (And then printed both versions.)

Thomas Pynchon (and others) have downed these stories. But, what is poor, beginning writing for someone like Pynchon, is a level that many aspiring writers NEVER achieve. The story Entropy has been reprinted several times, so even though Pynchon finds it weak, it has great value. (At least to some editors.) The first time that I read it, I was not aware that this story was repudiated by its own author.

While Pynchon really requires several hundred pages to reach the stride of his genius, I would certainaly state that these stories and introduction are an excellent place to start to read Thomas Pynchon. While he is often thought of as a writer who mines the pathway, and puts up boundries for his readers, this is far from true. Granted he is a difficult writer, and you need to know a LOT of stuff to completely "Get" what his is up to, he can be read for sheer pleasure. Get what you can and try to get more on each re-reading.
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on April 5, 2008
This is an interesting collection of early stories, but my bet is that those who will enjoy the book most are those people who have already bought into the Pynchon mystique. I'm one of them, to be sure, so I must confess I have enjoyed it. Some of Pynchon's talents are already here on display, but what I miss the most is the irrepressible excess and the dizzying rhythm that characterizes his later prose. Some of the stories seem to flitter and fade, caught up in curiosities that are soon cast away. The settings in which Pynchon displays his talent varies: nineteenth-century espionage, a hurricane that ravages a town in Louisiana, a dysfunctional marriage. Pynchon fans will like some of those odd situations and odd characters, such as the ending of the story "Low-lands," and the psychologist "Geronimo Diaz," from the same story. Of great interest to Pynchon readers will be the opening essay, a blunt and detailed appraisal of the stories: a rare gesture in Pynchon. (I recommend reading it last, by the way, even though it prefaces the collection.) I titled this review "a second-best starting point," and it is because people who read Pynchon for the first time will probably do best to choose "The Crying of Lot 49," in which Pynchon's greatness is already well-formed, but it is encapsulated in a manageable 150 pages (as opposed to the bulkier later work).
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on February 24, 2000
This is not a book that can just be read for pleasure on its own. It is very much part of Pynchon's work and has to be seen as such. The introduction is definitely interesting and surprisingly revealing. He seems to dislike CL49, and even admits that his own anoymity is due to his belief that fiction is "too autobiographical", although he goes on to admit that almost every knows that part of the writer's life must go into his work, whether he wants it to or not. So perhaps this is a clue that his later works, perhaps most obviously Vineland, are more autobiographical than, say, V - which he reveals was robbed from a Baedeker he found in a secondhand book shop. The "Under the Rose" story is very interesting, probably the best in the collection. It is highly revealing for those puzzled by V (which means just about everyone). Indeed, although I read V a long time ago, I found this story did clear a lot up in my mind. It clarifies the idea that V is this odd woman who appears at crucial moments in history - she is, in this story, Victoria, but more generally she is a Venus that follows the hapless Goodfellow. Not all the stories are good. As Pynchon admits in his intro, parts are heavy going for the reader who wants enjoyment. But they are still fascinating for the Pynchonite who wants to humanise and demythologise the great man, and who wants to see how he found his style, despite him being a selfconfessed "slow learner".
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on May 22, 2014
I find myself enjoying Pynchon's stories more than Tom himself does. But I digress. If you want to see a talent arise, read this. Pynchon's critical, self-deprecating and humorous intro might be the highlight of this collection, but his stories, while flawed and reeking of "young amateur writer" are enjoyable as well and show just how precocious a writer the man is. If you're an experienced fan, get this one.
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on October 1, 1998
Yes yes yes, as omnipot says, it's fascinating to read this book to examine the learning curve that Pynchon climbed as a young man, but I felt that the most rewarding parts of the book was the auto-critical introduction. There are some marvellous moments, my favourites being his casual description of 'V.' as a 'complex philosophical allegory' (and readers of that book will be interested to read an early account of the battle between Porpentine and Bongo-Shaftsbury in 'Under the Rose'), and the way he describes 'The Crying of Lot 49': "[It] was marketed as a 'novel,' and ... I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I'd learned up till then."
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on January 18, 1998
I had heard so many great things about Mr. Pynchon for so long that when I finally tracked down a number of his books I was sorrowly disapointed with them. After a period of staying away from his writings I summed up my courage, got "Slow Learner" from the library and was VERY impressed. These stories make up the beginnings of Mr. Pynchon's work and to my mind appeared much more concise and clear than his overcomplicated later works.
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