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It’s just Norma and Franz

Posted by on June 14, 2005

About twice every year for the past five years I’ve been taking a stab at reading Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. (And how I wish I could take an actual stab at you, Pynchon, you ornery fucker.) My most recent stab started a few days ago, and for the first time I was delighted to find I was more or less able to keep up with the old OF. I slid along for about 150 pages of abrupt direction changes, shifting between centuries, introducing and abandoning characters, often all in the same sentence, then found myself on a double black diamond slope. A couple of characters (who? what relation do they have to what I will call the plot? no idea) were having an abstract kind of discussion; then suddenly we were inside a body, hearing a conversation between two cells; then the cells are people, a cute conceit, but the descriptions of the people are becoming more and more elaborate, the room they’re in has furnishings now, lovingly described, and, wait, it’s going on for pages, the cells have names and are interacting with other characters; say, those aren’t cells, it’s just Norma and Franz.

Ok, I thought, ok, Pynchon, you rat bastard, I don’t quite see how you did it, but ok.

Seeing I had made it through that obstacle course, Pynchon started to throw thumbtacks in my path. Paragraphs appeared and disappeared in clouds of ellipses, free of sentences; unconnected thoughts, fragments, then just nouns, nouns, and…what the hell? Is that some African language? And whatever that African sentence said I bet it made no sense either…

One time when Allen the peacock was on his Latin American tour, he emailed me to say he too had embarked on the slippery slope of G’s R. A few weeks later I got another email from him declaring that after hours of painful struggle he’d suddenly realized there was nothing chaining him to this book and immediately threw it out the window of the bus into a deep gorge. How freeing that must have been. Lacking a gorge, I soldier on.

2 Responses to It’s just Norma and Franz

  1. sean

    I first attempted the Rainbow for a class, reading ahead in my brown-nosing ambition. The professor hyped up the book quite a bit, telling us how Pynchon defied all of the conventions of the novel, broke all the rules. So, when my copy abruptly went from Page 189 to 267, I thought, “Pynchon, you sly dog.” and continued reading. When I got to 322 and the novel returned to 267 again, I thought, “Pynchon you rat bastard. You got me again. You truly are re-inventing the novel, right down to the conventions of pagination.”

    Then it was our first lecture, and the professor announced that half of the copies of the book from the student store had a printing mishap, and I was so frustrated I dropped the class into a metaphorical gorge.

  2. Frahm

    On my third time through I finally conceded to using Weisenberger’s companion (which is flawed here and there but does the trick for the most part). It was still wonderfully difficult but at least this time the myriad references had anchors (and Herero translations, thank god). I’m convening a reading group this fall to tackle it again–if’n yr interested.

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