found drama

get oblique

Gravity’s Rainbow

by Rob Friesel

It is difficult to say for certain if the five-star review will withstand a second reading–but we won’t know that until I subject myself to it that second time. Fortunately for me, it has gone back to its “last in line” position for at least a little while.

First, the obvious stuff: this is the kind of novel that makes “Top N” lists of all kinds1 and is widely regarded as a masterpiece among postmodern masterpieces. It’s transgressive in a number of different ways–fucking with sexuality; history and modernity and futurism; politics and anarchy; mysticism and science; u.s.w.–all on its celebratory-romping exploration of annihilation on every possible scale. It’s surreal and impenetrable and referential and still somehow an engaging read. But as I look back over my notes, I’m struck by a few of my own status updates:

Inappropriate analogies: Pynchon is like Neal Stephenson channelling Kurt Vonnegut doing an impression of George Orwell after having dinner with Philip K. Dick.

And:

Last night I dreamed that Slothrop was at a party with Bobby Shaftoe, both of them hitting on Juliana Frink.

And:

“It’s like Neal Stephenson was writing a remix of Dhalgren for a class taught by Kurt Vonnegut?”

But also:

Well that last bit read like it was written by a horny college sophomore that just got introduced to absurdism.

And the emergent theme of my own reading experience was definitely an academic or collegient one. The kind of book where an upper-division English class of like 6 or 7 students sits around in a circle wanking over its references and allusions and going on at great length about its influence on other, more recent works. And this isn’t necessarily a Bad Thing–this is part of what Gravity’s Rainbow Intends to Be. But given how I am so quick to compare it2 to Infinite Jest, therein lies an important difference–Infinite Jest may be surreal and absurd and referential and seemingly impenetrable, but it is also colloquial and demotic in a way that Gravity’s Rainbow is not. But this is an unfair comparison.

So then… what’s with the five-star review? Because despite its impermeable nature, this novel–however dense, however exclusive–really does seem to accomplish what it sets out to discuss, and from every angle I could think of. And though much of it was lost on me3, there is a gripping and tangled enough tale in here to keep one engaged with the prose and its narrative4.

A version of this review also appears on Goodreads.com.

  1. Both formal and less so. []
  2. In my mind at least… []
  3. As a reader’s guide was recommended to me, so do I recommend one to you. []
  4. A prurient nature helps, too. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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