Reading Log: Bleeding Edge (Thomas Pynchon)

Pynchon Meets Simpsons

Spurred by re-reading various bits of Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace for irrelevant and mostly random reasons, I finally dug into Bleeding Edge…and I was not disappointed. I’m not one who thinks Pynchon is without peer—the aforementioned DeLillo and Wallace stand right there, along with William Gaddis and Robert Coover—but he is first among equals. Here Pynchon continues with the deceptively-lightened-up tone of Inherent Vice, with hard-boiled Certified Fraud Investigator/mother/pole-dancer-un/dercover Maxine Tarnow playing the role of Doc Sportello, and produces the only—to dangerously over-simplify in service of creating a critical category for such a singular novel—“9/11” novel that doesn’t crumple under either the reader’s, or its own, weight.

I won’t attempt to paraphrase (the plot is infernally twisted) or quote (Pynchon’s prose demands lengthy excerpts, not soundbites) except to say the multiple arcs of the book involve the burgeoning Internet of the post-dotcom-bust-variety and various corrupt heads of those mini-technological-would-be-states, the dark web (in, among other forms, the Deep Archer (departure, get it?) “game”), 9/11 conspiracies, spies and assassins, and the twisted roots of social media.

In Bleeding Edge September 11 is everything and nothing. As readers we know it’s coming. I practically held my breath waiting for it. But then it’s past, almost before we know it, only it’s never really past just as the already-wearisome technology will still be too much with us, just as the non-existent question of what “really” happened will never be answered because there is—as with all events that become the grounds of the concentric circles of myth that make New Yorkers/Americans/Citizens of the Technological Age/Humans—no such thing as an answer that doesn’t become just another more complicated question about, at least, the existence of answers in the first place.

These are just my scattered thoughts. I don’t feel any obligation to explication or coherence. Bleeding Edge is funny and tragic, full of amazing wordplay and wonderfully crafted sentences, packed with puns and jokes both obvious and arcane, and blessed with a plot that, like life, doesn’t resolve, and characters who, like real people, don’t experience unbelievable epiphanies. All wrapped up in a package of irreverent, but not untrue, observations and invocations of technology in a pivotal time. Good stuff.

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