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Book Review and Recommendation: The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon

The Crying of Lot 49 was such a fun read! Sign me in for more Thomas Pynchon, please. This was my first reading of one of Pynchon's works, and I was honestly blown away. How is it possible that I haven't read him sooner? Well, it's never too late to discover a good writer. I'm actually happy that I dived into this novel blissful unaware of anything regrading the author, the time period it was written in or the novel itself. That made the reading all the more fun. The Crying of Lot 49 has proved to be such an exquisite literary surprise! If this novel is anything to go by, Thomas Pynchon has a really peculiar writing style. The narrative in this novel often felt chaotic, but I absolutely enjoyed its potent mix of wild humour, entertaining characters, delicious sarcasm, social commenting and alternative history! I didn't find it hard to follow at all. Maybe it was because of my mood at the time, but I found myself immersed in the novel.

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But first things first. I read this book in the course of one day and night, under circumstances that were a bit strange. My personal state of being went well with the mood of this one. By the end of this novel, I was nearly hallucinating myself, not for the reasons the characters themselves but still it felt appropriate. Recently I have had an operation that went wrong and my recovering was slower that excepted. Yesterday I had 'the bride of Frankenstein' look down, my neck was terribly swollen and I was pale as death. I was able to get a wink of sleep, so I entertained myself with reading this novel and some other works. Around 3 am, my surgical wound has started to bleed. There I was drying to drain my wound, opting not to go to ER, applying the medical alcohol and figuring it is best to wait until the morning and try to catch a decent surgeon (which I did managed to do, I got my wound fully treated and am currently on antibiotics). Still, it was a pretty wild night, no sleep and blood everywhere. 




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Let's talk a bit more about the novel. The Crying of Lot 49 features a female protagonist, Oedipa Maas. Her name, filled with Freudian and other references, is as symbolic as everything she notices around herself. As Oedipa's story opens, she is a married housewife who, all of the sudden, becomes the executor of will of her ex (dirty rich) lover. Her husband Mucho, the disk jockey, is having an identity crisis of some sort. Mucho is beaten by years of selling cars, of seeing dirty vehicles of failed individuals and/or families being sold to other equally dysfunctional individuals and/or families. That 'incest car circle', as Mucho likes to call it, has driven him mad. It seems that his previous job as a car seller has mucho traumatized Mucho. He wakes in terror at night, and Oedipa struggles to comfort him. 

“Yet at least he had believed in the cars, maybe to excess: how could he not, seeing people poorer than him come in, Negro, Mexican, cracker, a parade seven days a week, bring with them the most godawful of trade-ins: motorized, metal extensions of themselves, of their families and what their whole lives must be like, out there so naked for anybody, a stranger like himself, to look at, frame cockeyed, rusty underneath, fender repainted in a shade just off enough to depress the value, if not Mucho himself, inside smelling hopeless of children, of supermarket booze, or two, sometimes three generations of cigarette smokers, or only of dust--and when the cars were swept out you had to look at the actual residue of these lives, and there was no way of telling what things had been truly refused (when so little he supposed came by that out of fear most of it had to be taken and kept) and what had simply (perhaps tragically) been lost: clipped coupons promising savings of 5 or 10¢, trading stamps, pink flyers advertising specials at the market, butts, tooth-shy combs, help-wanted ads, Yellow Pages torn from the phone book, rags of old underwear or dresses that already were period costumes, for wiping your own breath off the inside of a windshield with so you could see whatever it was, a movie, a woman or car you coveted, a cop who might pull you over just for drill, all the bits and pieces coated uniformly, like a salad of despair, in a grey dressing of ash, condensed exhaust, dust, body wastes--it nauseated him to look, but he had to look.” 



Anyhow, when Oedipa shows her husband the letter, he seems indifferent. Perhaps that is why Oedipa accepts the job. There is a catch naturally. Almost immediately, Oedipa realized that she is in over her head. She gets involves with the lawyer who is to help her execute the will. The lawyer, once a child movie star know as Baby Ivan, is working on a series where an ex lawyer turn a movie star is supposed to play him, but that 'pilot' will probably live in some drawer internally. Oedipa and lawyer get drunk watching some old film of his. Oedipa tries to get as much information of him as she can, and when they agree to play strip poker she excuses herself and puts as many of items of clothing as possible. When Oedipa sees herself in the mirror, she laughs so hard she knows down a hair spray and causes an explosion, which draws in the attention of a young band that will soon accompany them in their 'search'. The description of Oedipa's and Baby Ivan's 'hooking up' is comical, but still strangely erotic. Oddly enough, this is how I would describe much of the novel's prose. There is nothing juicy about it except its humour, in other words, there are no erotic descriptions but there is a fair share of erotic references & jokes.





The novel progresses rapidly from that point. Once Oedipa learns of a secret sign and copies it into her notebook, she becomes obsessed with it. What does this have to do with the will? It is uncertain. The will is full of mysteries but so it life. Maybe her ex is playing tricks on her? Oedipa sees a brilliantly morbid play dating back to Puritan times, and she is haunted by it. She storms into the wardrobe of the direct and the principal actor, who refuses her the original version of the play, but treats her to a strong mystical passage. Through this play, and some other occurrences, Oedipa find out about Renaissance postal system. It seems that a similar, underground postal system still exists in USA! As Oedipa becomes increasingly obsessed with it, learning about various underground groups, the term Triestero keeps to haunt her. At times it seems that Oedipa sets to explore, not just her soul, or the USA social mysteries, but the human condition itself.


“In Mexico City they somehow wandered into an exhibition of paintings by the beautiful Spanish exile Remedios Varo: in the central painting of a triptych, titled “Bordando el Manto Terrestre,” were a number of frail girls with heart-shaped faces, huge eyes, spun-gold hair, prisoners in the top room of a circular tower, embroidering a kind of tapestry which spilled out the slit windows and into a void, seeking hopelessly to fill the void: for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships and forests of the earth were contained in the tapestry, and the tapestry was the world. Oedipa, perverse, had stood in front of the painting and cried. No one had noticed; she wore dark green bubble shades. For a moment she’d wondered if the seal around her sockets were tight enough to allow the tears simply to go on and fill up the entire lens space and never dry. She could carry the sadness of the moment with her that way forever, see the world refracted through those tears, those specific tears, as if indices as yet unfound varied in important ways from cry to cry. She had looked down at her feet and known, then, because of a painting, that what she stood on had only been woven together a couple thousand miles away in her own tower, was only by accident known as Mexico, and so Pierce had take her away from nothing, there’d been no escape. What did she so desire escape from? Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: that what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited on her from outside and for no reason at all. Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disk jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?” 




As Oedipa encounters marginal groups that use the alternative postal service, things move from strange to stranger. There are engineers that believe in demons, AA society that is about stopping people from falling in love or forming meaningful relationships and all sorts of groups unknown to a common men. Oedipa goes to meet a man who will believes in a demon. When she arrives at his home, he is watching some kind of dance, saying there is something about girls that age. Oedipa says she understand, because her husband, shares a passion for underage girls.  The novel is full of disturbing sentences like that, sentences that are just thrown at the reader. Deeply ironic, this novel is soaked with social satire. The characters are not free from paradox. Sometimes they seem to act as symbols, but despite all of the insanity or perhaps because of it, they seem human enough. Not long into novel, some readers might feel like the are almost hallucinating. Everything seems to be happening so fast- most of the time. There is a lot of information thrown around. Alternative history plays a big part of this novel. For some people, it might be hard to follow, but for me it was an absolute delight.







To conclude, The Crying of Lot 49 was one of the most fun books I read last month. I gave it four stars on goodreads and I think that's a pretty fair grading. The writing style is very interesting, the novel doesn't feel dated. Quite on the contrary, the prose feels quite fresh. It is not the kind of book that changes one's life, but it is certainly an interesting read. I don't have much to add here. I can't wait to read more of Thomas Pynchon. Have you read anything by him? If yes, do you have any recommendations.






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