I was introduced to Thomas Pynchon during a chemistry course (of all places) in late 2008. We were discussing aqua regia (if I recall correctly, it's the process of liquifying gold), and a colleague announced that Pynchon mentioned aqua regia in The Crying of Lot 49. It seemed utterly ridiculous at the time - why in the blazes would anyone want to liquify gold? - but I figured I'd investigate.
Of course, The Crying of Lot 49
isn't really about aqua regia at all; in fact, the reference is basically a throwaway line. But Lot 49
, like aqua regia, is slightly absurd but a whole lot of fun.Lot 49
serves as an excellent -- you could even call it mainstream -- introduction to Pynchon. Nearly all the classic Pynchon elements are in place: crazy character names, paranoia, off-the-wall humour, conspiracy theories, obscure references to scientific and philosophical theories, that sinking feeling that Pynchon has encapsulated an entire decade without even trying. The only thing that Lot 49
lacks is length, and that's not really a bad thing if you're not in the mood for an 800-page read.
And while it's not long, it's good
. Pynchon pulls brilliant paragraphs out of thin air (just look at the opening paragraph... err, sentence). Other writers must look back at Pynchon and realize that their lives are nothing more than a salad of despair. Har har.
I've never seen Pynchon as a master of the character study, and Oedipa Maas isn't as fully developed as I would have liked. But if you can set aside these minor issues, I think you'll enjoy the outrageous and yet compelling narrative.