Thursday, December 04, 2003

Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon

I know that some people think Pynchon is too much work, and if that's the way they feel it makes little sense for me to argue with them. It's true that about half the time he fails to construct a true overarching narrative in his novels, preferring instead to tell the tangential tales that take place through the course of the book. Which would be a problem if Pynchon's tangents weren't so damned interesting. Mechanical ducks, conspiratorial Jesuits, globe-trotting courtesans and evangelical farmers are among the digressions he takes while telling a story of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, the men who surveyed and plotted the eponymous line which was used to demarcate the boundaries of the slave trade in the United States. I say "a" story because this is not historical fiction; written in archaic English with a modern sensibility, Pynchon's narrative is both metaficional and metaphysical while never losing a romantic/pulp sensibility. It took a while for the 18th Century punctuation and capitalization to become friendly to the eye, and there were parts of the novel that I had to gloss over lest I glaze over with incomprehension. And though I've nothing against long books, I think this one could have used a gutsy editor to tell T.P. to cut about a hundred pages out of the front. But I'm glad I plowed through, because there are moments of giddy storytelling along the way here, of fantasy, satire and ridiculousness that still manage to ring true. If you don't like Pynchon, nothing I say will convince you to pick up one of his books, but if you're one of the uninitiated, you could do worse than to start with this one.


Post a Comment

<< Home