The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) – Thomas Pynchon
‘There had hung the sense of buffeting, insulation, she had noticed the absence of an intensity, as if watching a movie, just perceptibly out of focus, that the receptionist refused to fix.’
This is the comic/tragic, mind messing trip of Oedipa Maas, trying to extricate herself from a condition of floating meaninglessness, which characterises her life experiences and perceptions. The events of the novel are built on her role as executor of the considerable estate of her former lover Pierce Inverarity. Linked to this task is her increasingly bizarre and obsessive quest to uncover the possible continuing existence of an unofficial, non-government postal system, the Tristero. Oedipa’s road trip both parodies and echoes the cosmic seriousness of the ‘road’ genre, through the increasingly chaotic nature of her quest.
“What did she so desire escape from? Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realises that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego, only incidental…If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?”
Pynchon’s playfully teasing, rapid fire, allusive style, brilliant set pieces, combined with a cast of cartoon like characters e.g. Mike Fallopian, Genghis Cohen, Dr Hilarius, constantly unsettles an engaged reading of this story. There is a nagging feeling that the author is having a great time playing with the sensibilities of any reader who is trying to ‘categorise’ this novel. But it is not an unpleasant feeling, given the rewards of his intellectual sharpness, and the genuine warmth he expresses for Oedipa. The sense of ‘play’ between author and reader is of course one of the most intriguing features of the post modern novel. Whether the contents of Lot 49 will bring resolution to Oedipa’s quest for connection in a world of perceptual chaos is ambivalent . Pynchon’s frequently biting satire and allusions to wider philosophical debates, located in a drug dominated culture, provides a sparky intellectual chorus, and an enduring relevance for this novel, well beyond a mid 1960’s trip to the funhouse.
‘She might well be in the cold and sweatless meat-hooks of a psychosis.’