Saturday, May 9, 2015

Against the Day (100th book!)

My 100th book read on the "1001 books to read before you die" list was Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day. It was a regrettable choice, and one that took me over 6 weeks and cost me .90 in late fees at the library.

I can't say that I loved this book, but then, in retrospect, I didn't really like the first novel of Thomas Pynchon's that I read, Gravity's Rainbow. (Read my review here). I liked it once I reflected on it, because I felt like it had some good themes about free will and choice, but when I was actually reading it I just wanted it to be over. I chose this novel after perusing the library one day for a book off the 1001 list. I picked this one up because I had been intrigued by the latest movie that came out based on Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice. Every time I saw a preview for it, it looked weird....and interesting. I still haven't seen it yet, an perhaps I never will, but I though I would give Thomas Pynchon a second was not an enjoyable experience.

Against the Day had an extensive cast of characters who were slightly intertwined. Their story lines were all separate, but by the end of the novel most of the characters had met each other. Some story lines I never got into and others I enjoyed part of the time. One of the storylines that held my attention was the Chums of Chance. These individuals were the crew of a zepplin style balloon who travelled around the world on mysterious missions. They had a series of novels written about them and anytime something  interesting happened it referred to the  novel  where a similar event happened ie Chums of Chance and the Great Escapade. I would have much rather read any of these fictional books than Against the Day.

Like Gravity's Rainbow this novel mentions the concept of zero quite a few times. I have noticed after you read a few novels by the same author you can oftentimes pick up on their pet idea. This appears to be Pynchon's. Also like Gravity's Rainbow this novel has characters randomly bursting into song for no apparent reason. It is like a musical in book form! Similar to Gravity's Rainbow this novel is quite lewd, and seemingly for no point. I wanted to put down the novel several times and walk away, but by the time I had made that decision I had invested too much into the novel and wanted to see it through to the end.

Unlike Gravity's Rainbow this one didn't seem to have a lot of repetitive phrases or themes. The only one that I picked up on was a focus on light and its counterpart: darkness. Since the novel itself is quite dark this is not surprising.  Here are a few of the quotes that stuck out to me:

"Differences among the world's religions are in fact rather trivial when compared to the common enemy, the ancient and abiding darkness which all hate, fear, and struggle against without cease."

"When something is born of light, what does that light enable us to see?"

"Nobody can withstand pure light, let alone see it. Without her to reflect, God is invisible." (referring to the feminine side of God)

"Light, in any case, among these Indians  of Chiapas, occupies an analogous position to flesh among Christian peoples. It is living tissue. As the brain is the outward and visible expression of the mind."
At the end of the day, I would say that this novel was too long, had too little resolution, and either didn't have a point, or had a point that was too convoluted for me to pick up. Most of the stories dragged on for me and I soon lost interest in the novel as a whole. I am still so curious about what makes Thomas Pynchon tick, (he must have a fascinating story) but I other than that I don't believe I will become a Thomas Pynchon fan.

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