I did it and I’m here to brag. It took a month and a week but I read every word of Gravity’s Rainbow: 760 bewildering pages of coprophagia, paranoia, rocket science, puns, and words, words, words.
I don’t have anything new to add to the conversation about this book. I can only confirm that Gravity’s Rainbow is complex, frustrating, perverse, sophomoric, incomprehensible, and totally unique. It is the Trout Mask Replica of books—ponderous and so assured of its own logic that audiences can end up feeling like they’re missing something when they don’t get that not getting it is getting it. Got me? Critics love that kind of work and what critics claim to love, most other people hate or ignore altogether. And sure enough, Gravity’s Rainbow won a National Book Award but was deemed too disgusting for a Pulitzer.
I’m nothing if not critical, so I kind of like Gravity’s Rainbow, about as much as I like Trout Mask Replica, though it’s a safe bet I’ll never read it again and I would never recommend it to anyone. There’s no point—if you’re curious you’ve already read it, tried to, or decided not to.
Pynchon could have done countless simple things to make Gravity’s Rainbow easier to read, follow, and enjoy, so obviously, that isn’t the point. “Why should things be easy to understand?” he is quoted as saying. Fair enough. There are passages that are perfectly clear: any time a perverse or criminal sex act happens, which is tediously often, the prose assumes an intuitive organization. There are a handful of other scenes I think I followed, like the one where some scientists (?) show a (porn?) movie to an octopus. Most of the time I was totally lost and I figured I was supposed to be.
Here and there, there are some lucid, quotable chestnuts like, “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.”
And, “They are in love. Fuck the war.”
I really liked this: “Go ahead, capitalize the T on technology, deify it if it’ll make you feel less responsible—but it puts you in with the neutered, brother, in with the eunuchs keeping the harem of our stolen earth for the numb and joyless hardons of human sultans, human elite with no right at all to be where they are—”
I read somewhere that there are 400 characters in Gravity’s Rainbow. I don’t know about that. There might be 400 names, most of which are agonizingly silly, but there are only a handful of characters as such, meaning that only a few have distinct motivations and seem like real people. I didn’t feel anything for any of them except one, a statistician (I think) called Roger Mexico. Again, it seems like characterization is another convention that Gravity’s Rainbow spurns. I felt that something was at stake in the book though it was hard to tell exactly what it was—something to do with (my best guess) trying to kill a hapless guy named Tyrone Slothrop with a rocket. Plot is less the point than characterization. If you hadn’t guessed by now, it’s hard to tell what the upshot is. War is hell? People are strange? Big Brother is watching? Don’t eat yellow snow? Upshots are for nerds?
Gravity’s Rainbow defies trite classification. It’s a quintessential work of post-modern literature, and slightly more fun than that makes it sound. It quickly establishes its own logic, and it is an amazing feat that Pynchon maintained it for such a long, long time.
I’m glad I read it and I’m glad its over.