The Writing of Thomas Pynchon

Hey everyone, please enjoy this guest post about this brilliant writer!

Ask any English or writing major in college if they have read a book by Thomas Pynchon, and you will often be returned with two responses. The first is from the type of student who fancies him or herself as someone who is all-knowing with postmodern literature and will say “Of course! Who hasn’t!”. Then there will be the student who sighs and will solemnly respond – “Well I tried, but none of it made any sense”, insinuating that they express little doubts about their own adeptness in the understanding of American literature.

Fact is, the second student is more credible in response, partially in honesty, but mostly that Pynchon’s writing often makes little sense. His narratives, while a story is very present, are consistently loose. Narrative digression from paragraph to paragraph is not an uncommon practice, and you will find yourself trying to read the same page over and over again thinking that there must have been something you missed.

His books are all historical, and more so, the events in history are very specific, leaving to question what the reasoning is, and what Pynchon is trying to say about our history. For example, Against the Day (2006) takes place between the years of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the period following World War I, and contains a story that many people to this day are still trying to figure out. Mason & Dixon (1997), a very loose interpretation of the journey of astronomers and cartographers Charles Dixon and Jeremiah Mason, takes place in the several years before the American Revolution. Oh, and, other characters in Mason & Dixon include talking clocks, dogs, as well as discussions on robots and alien abduction – yes, in the 18th century.

Pynchon’s most famous novel, Gravity’s Rainbow from 1972 is considered by scholars and literary giants to be one of the greatest works of fiction ever written. It has also been a book considered by others as absolutely impossible to comprehend, let alone read in the first place. Taking place at the end of World War II, the story is a mash of complex scientific theories, mathematics, and a plot that only Pynchon would ever think of being appropriate to contain in a historical narrative. It would be unwise to get too much into this story, so all that could be suggested is to tackle the first few pages yourself.

What there is to be said about how Pynchon places his characters, many of which carry an unrelenting dryness and shell that suggests their imperviousness to external events, is how we today perceive our own history. We all want to think of historical figures as romanticized beings, never having committed an error, always honest and true patrons of the formulation of this nation. But we forget that they too were human, and Pynchon aims to poke fun at how we look at history as a fairy tale. It was just as mad and nonsensical then as the events that we bear witness to today, but in the end, it comes to shape us as we are. Funny thing is, if Pynchon were to read this article, he’d probably say I’m dead wrong.

Mike is an avid musician, reader and blogger. He’s always looking for the next best thing in the arts. Also, Mike is a writer for