The Eternally Adolescent Crying of Thomas Pynchon


Over at The New York Sun, Adam Kirsch gives a big thumbs-down to Thomas Pynchon's new novel, Against the Day:

"Against the Day"…will inevitably be read as Mr. Pynchon's contribution to the genre of post-September 11 fiction. Yet by comparison with the other major novelists who have addressed this theme, he displays a surpassingly crude moral imagination. This is a novel, after all, in which most of the heroes are proud terrorists, committed on principle to murdering plutocrats like Scarsdale Vibe. Writing about such characters in our own age of terror, one might expect Mr. Pynchon to have given some thought to the rights and wrongs of political violence.

In fact, however, his attitude towards violence is childishly sentimental, and ruthless in a way only possible to a writer whose imagination has never dwelt among actual human beings. Mr. Pynchon's heroes (the poor, the workers, Anarchists) assassinate and blow up his villains (mine owners, Pinkerton thugs, the bourgeoisie) with no more qualms than the Road Runner has about dropping an anvil on the Coyote. In the novel as in the cartoon, good and evil are unproblematic, death is unreal, and sheer activity takes the place of human motive. The silliness of "Against the Day" about the very subjects where we are most urgently in quest of wisdom proves that, whatever he once was, Thomas Pynchon is no longer the novelist we need.

Whole review here. Against the Day is a whopping 1,100 pages long, which makes it a good bargain, at least. I inveighed against Pynchon when his earlier, long-awaited doorstop Mason & Dixon came out. If we have passed out of an age where the novelist really is/was a culture hero (and I think we have), it's at least partly because of the failure of the writers of Pynchon's generation to fully engage contemporary America. In the end, I think he's remained little more than a clever adolescent, a wiseacker devoid of real insight into society or life, as callow as he appears in the best-known photo of him. I greatly enjoy The Crying of Lot 49 and parts of Gravity's Rainbow, but there's a point where the slightness of his thought overwhelms the cleverness of the prose and plots (such as they are).

Bonus question: When is Don DeLillo, a writer often linked to Pynchon and one whose novels often explored terrorism and political violence, going to write a 9/11 novel?