Photo of Lauren Agnelli by Chion Wolf
I’m reading my first Thomas Pynchon novel, V. and wondering if Pynchon created the urban legend about baby alligators being flushed down toilets and growing into big alligators in the sewers of New York, or did he simply take a pre-existing rumor and expand upon it. For that matter, is it only a myth, or is it true?
Sometimes I think Pynchon is like Jack Kerouac with the added luxury of sleep, leisure time, and a global outlook. Other times, Pynchon reminds me of William Burroughs, with the hallucinatory traces of intrigue and skullduggery but without the homoerotic obsession. Then again, the humor is more Vonnegut. Of course, the rollicking debauchery of V.’s “Whole Sick Gang” might evoke Bukowski, and/or circle back again to Kerouac’s crew of desolate angel outcasts.
I refer to these other writers because it’s an easy way to describe my initial reactions to V., which I am enjoying immensely. I get the impression from Pynchon fans that the comparisons should be reversed.
In a book review of Gravity’s Rainbow, on Amazon.com, William P. Mcneill says, “Read V. first… Pynchon’s V. is shorter and more accessible than Gravity’s Rainbow, but addresses the same themes in a similar style. If you enjoyed V. , you will have built up a reserve of goodwill for Pynchon that will carry you through the initial rough patches of Gravity’s Rainbow. This advice was given to me years ago, and I’m glad I took it.”
Michael Norris and I got into a side-discussion about Pynchon on one of Jamelah Earle’s Ulysses threads, then “stepped outside” the virtual room to continue our conversation by email:
BILL: Lately I’ve been reading (a Rudy Rucker essay) about the relative denseness of information in various novels. Someone suggested that I read Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I get the general feeling that Rainbow is similar to Ulysses in it’s layers of reference and meaning. Would anyone here agree with that? Comment by Bill Ectric – June 27th, 2008 12:07 pm
MIKE: Bill, you *must* read Gravity’s Rainbow. It is quite accessible compared to Ulysses, but yes the denseness of reference is there. To read Pynchon, you need to be versed in History, Literature, and Drugs. And have a sense of humor. Comment by Michael Norris – June 27th, 2008 2:57 pm
BILL: You’ve convinced me. I’m going to read Gravity’s Rainbow. Now, let me ask you this. Someone said it would be better to read “V” first. Have you read
V? – email from billectric
MIKE: Yes, read V first. This will get you used to Pynchon’s style. Also, V is set
in a more contemporary period, whereas Gravity’s Rainbow takes place during
WWII. Also, some of the characters in V repeat in Gravity’s Rainbow. – email from Michael Norris
For some background on Thomas Pynchon, here’s a LitKicks article written by singer/musician/writer Lauren Agnelli. I once had the pleasure of seeing Lauren perform with the Washington Squares in New York City at the Bowery Poetry Club, a memory I will always cherish.