20th century American novelist Thomas Pynchon was known for his brilliant, yet maddeningly complex works including postmodern novel Gravity’s Rainbow, the powerful and popular The Crying of Lot 49, and V. Born in Long Island, his ancestry reached as far back in America to William Pynchon, who founded Springfield, Massachusetts in 1636. Ever since, his ancestors have accumulated wealth and good reputation in America. Pynchon integrated many details of his family history into his novels and short stories, including short story “The Secret Integration” (1964) and Gravity’s Rainbow (1973).
Gravity’s Rainbow is a lengthy, complex novel set primarily in Europe during the post World Ward II period. The plot is centered on the design and manufacturing of V-2 Rockets by the German military. The novel is packed with knowledge and theory on a wide range of themes, including the boundaries between high and low culture and the blurred lines between science and speculative metaphysics.
One of the unique and distinctive features of Gravity’s Rainbow is the title, which holds several meanings in the novel. For one, the parabolic “rainbow-shaped” trajectory of the V-2 rocket between its activation and effect under gravity. Many critics have also considered the unfolding of the plot to be cyclical, mimicking the true shape of a rainbow, a circle. James Joyce (Finnegan’s Wake) and Henry Melville (The Confidence Man) were also popular for this style. Pynchon was publicly dubbed a “mathematician of prose”(The New Yorker) for his style of writing in Gravity’s Rainbow, a work “often considered as the postmodern novel, redefining both postmodernism and the novel in general” (Pohllman).
Gravity’s Rainbow is one of the few truly great novels of the century, and at the same time one of the most disappointing, disturbing, maddening…. One of the most original fictive styles to have been developed since Joyce. (Contemporary Novelists, 1136)
Published in 1965, The Crying Lot of 49 is written about a California housewife, Oedipa Mass, who discovers a set of stamps that may have been used for a secret underground postal service, Trystero. Throughout, the reader isn’t quite sure whether Trystero is a conspiracy, a practical joke, or a hallucination by Oedipa. Even while a coat of arms is discovered and other secrets revealed, there is always a possibility that Trystero doesn’t exist. Although it is Pynchon’s shortest novel, The Crying of Lot 49 is considered a thrilling work of postmodern fiction.
The Crying of Lot 49 is a haunting sequence of imagined human situations, typical and pathetic ones, fused with the particularized power that shows Pynchon’s own obsession with the encoded messages of the American landscape. What is also noticeable… is that the major character is really Pynchon himself, Pynchon’s voice with its capacity to move from the elegy to the epic catalogue. The narrator sounds like a survivor looking through the massed wreckage of his civilization, ‘a salad of despair.’ That image, to suggest but one of the puns in the word Tristero, is typically full of sadness, terror, love, and flamboyance. But then, how else should one imagine a tryst with America? And that is what this novel is. (The New York Times)