Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Crying of Lot 49: Thoughts

This really isn't a review. I don't see any way that I can reasonably review Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, so I have pretty much by-passed that on Goodreads. But, here on the Block, I'm going to just record my random thoughts on the work for my own future reference. Possible spoilers ahead.

Basic plot (sortof): Oedipa Maas is made the co-executor of her ex-boyfriend's estate. The whole story is supposed to be about how she handles those duties. But not really--because she gets all distracted by everything and most prominently by this secret mailing system thing.

I've noted before that stream of consciousness writing doesn't do a whole heck of a lot for me. Yes, I do realize that our brains do work that way to an extent. I may be typing up these notes on the book and suddenly I realize I'm hungry and, hey, I wonder if I really do want the lunch that I brought with me or maybe I'll see if anybody else wants to order sandwiches delivered. I don't want to go out for lunch because, well, it's raining. [we decided to order, by the way] And...did I really see on the weather that it's going to rain for the rest of the week? Maybe I should look that up. Oh, look, somebody commented on a picture I posted on Facebook. Wait. Wasn't I doing something? Oh, yeah. Notes on The Crying of Lot 49. Hi. I'm back now.

I mean really. Can you imagine if I tried to hold a conversation with my coworkers that went like that All. Day. Long? Yeah, they'd get pretty darn tired of me bouncing all over the place. That's what I think about stream of consciousness writing and this postmodernist stuff. You got a story to tell? Then, how about you just tell it? Stick to the point and don't drag in random things and expect everybody to know how they're connected to the story when you just pop them in front of us and pop them out again. And I don't know if I'm supposed to believe half of what I'm told about people. For instance, Dr. Hilarius (don't even get me started on that bit of punnery), Oedipa's psychiatrist, admits at one point that he's a former Nazi. The whole scene has such a weird, dream-like quality (the man takes LSD, so no surprise there) that I have no idea if this is true. The police take him away--but I can't really say whether it's because he's a former Nazi that they've been looking for or if it's because he's been holed up with a gun and semi-threatening Oedipa.

According to what I read in the comments from other readers on Goodreads, there really is a point to the story. You could have fooled me. The back of the book tells me that Oedipa Maas makes all kinds of discoveries about herself. Again, you could have fooled me. I'm not convinced and the ending of the book seems very flat. Maybe that's on purpose.

No rating. Just glad to have it off the TBR pile and to be able to count this for various challenges.


fredamans said...

I think it's one I will steer clear of. Nice to read your thoughts.

J F Norris said...

I tried to read this years ago. Gave up. I tried again in 2009 when he wrote a quasi-noir crime novel INHERENT VICE. Also gave up. The only writer who dabbles in a similar style that I managed to get through one book was Tom Robbins. Oh! and David Foster Wallace also writes his novels like this. But though I sort of enjoyed his first novel I completely gave up on the excesses and intellectual ostentation of INFINITE JEST another cult book that is supposed to be a work of genius. Wallace was chronically depressed all his life and struggled to just plain live without losing his s*** all the time. Major anger issues as is the case with most depressive cases. I wonder if Pyncheon has mood disorders or other behavioral problems. He's just as reclusive as Salinger, wont' even have his picture taken, and may have a streak of misanthropy in him as Wallace did. It seems this kind of writing is indicative of a certain mindset and way of interacting with people. I talk to people exactly the way you wrote in the second paragraph but -- and this is crucial -- I'm aware of it. I had to be *taught* to be aware of it, but I'm aware of it now. It's been a lifelong struggle learning to adapt to "normal" conversation. But I'll not turn this into a lesson in neurological/behavioral disorders. I only mention it because I see the writing style as a fascinating window into the personality of the writer. Certain minds are wired this way. It's not really "talent", it's the way they think and perceive. Oliver Sacks writes about this in his fascinating science books and devoted his life to learning more about these neurological mysteries. You've reviewed his books here, haven't you?

It is difficult to give yourself over to this kind of fictional world as you mention. I guess I want order in my fiction because life to me is so random and unexpected. It's interesting to me that I can barely read seemingly unformed books like this and yet I think and navigate my way through life exactly the way these books are structured. It's way too ironic for me to comprehend.

Bev Hankins said...

John, you have now taught me something. It didn't even occur to me that "normal" conversation is not normal for everyone. Shame on me. [and I know that you didn't intend it to be a shaming experience].

Bev Hankins said...

Oh...and, no, I haven't read/reviewed any of Oliver Sacks work. The one book that I've reviewed that comes close (talking about how brains are wired) is PROUST & THE SQUID: THE STORY & SCIENCE OF THE READING BRAIN by Maryanne Wolf.

Jean said...

OK, I'll be the dissenter. I really like the Crying of Lot 49. I liked it 20 years ago in college and I like it now. (I adore the secret mail system.) I am trying to read other Pynchon works but so far am not having a ton of luck; I read V. and it was weird, and I failed after 70 pages of Gravity's Rainbow. I'm hoping Vineland, as another short "California" novel, will work for me. But I really like that Crying of Lot 49!