A few spoilers ahead.Carpenter's Gothic
is about many things: Africa, the apocalypse, rabid fundamentalism, deceit and trickery and fraud. But it seems to me that Gothic
primarily treats entropy. Gaddis himself said in a rare interview (the link to which I have regrettably lost) that Pynchon did not particularly influence him, but it seems nonetheless that they were on the same scientific wavelength. Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow
uses Tyrone Slothrop as a kind of metonymy for World War II, and so as the war winds down and the insanity bubbles over, Slothrop's character becomes progressively more difficult to pin down. In Carpenter's Gothic
, we experience a different sort of entropy; one not so much twinged with despair so much as drowned in a bucket of it. We watch as fundamentalists pillage America and then travel unto darkest Africa to repeat the entire process. This decay is cleverly characterized by Paul's increasingly insane behaviour, by the insinuation that McCandless was once confined to a mental institution, by the fact that even Elizabeth, arguably the most "normal" of the group, cannot escape this fate.
Gaddis' thesis seems to imply that thermodynamics trump theology, but the thematic richness doesn't stop there. Paul seems awfully like a caricature of a fundamentalist (although I'm willing to be proven wrong on that point), but Gaddis doesn't just take aim at Christianity—Billy's countercultural lifestyle is equally vapid. Even McCandless' supposed rationality doesn't suffice; it is a strangely defeated shell of a man who asks Elizabeth to leave with him at the novel's conclusion. This darkly satiric play (for it truly is closer to a play than any novel I've read) reminds us that the universe is marching toward catastrophe and that humanity is only speeding the process along. God is dead. Entropy is God. Long live entropy.