The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon is a seminal work of post-modern fiction.
I know that a lot of people do not like to read Thomas Pynchon books, but I am not among them. I understand why, the plots tend to taper off without resolving and change direction so quickly you get mental whiplash. With his dense and rapid fire references, massive cast of characters, and shifting narrative style things can become so incomprehensible that you have to put the book down before you get a headache. Even so, I think he is an incredible author. The key to enjoying Pynchon is that you have to forget entirely about the destination, because you’ll probably never get there, and instead just enjoy the ride. Yes it can be bewildering, but Pynchon is one of the funniest, most inventive novelists I’ve ever encountered, and his stories will occasionally contain prose that is almost staggeringly powerful.
The biggest thing that stood out for me with TCOL49 is that it is just damn funny. I had a big grin on my face through most of the book. Great characters like the main character’s husband Mucho Maas, DJ for radio station KCUF who has a thing for 17 year-olds, or the ex-Nazi Freudian psychologist Dr. Hilarius. A plot that is equal parts sinister and goofy: a centuries-old conspiracy to subvert and overthrow the state run postal system, which seems to taint everyone the protagonist (Oedipa Maas) meets, from the drunken sailor on the streets of San Fransisco to the engineers at Yoyodyne, Pynchon’s fictional aerospace giant. The world is skewed just enough to create a sense of reality through the lens of mild psychotropic drugs. There are some fairly poignant emotional moments too, and I think it’s incredible how well Pynchon can add a sentiment of loneliness and abandonment into a story that is so farcical and silly.
If you do happen to be a Pynchon hater you’ll find this book to be mercifully short (as opposed to Gravity’s Rainbow, which could probably crush an infant to death from sheer mass), but it made me sad that it was so brief. This is the most coherent and concrete Pynchon narrative I’ve encountered, and I wanted to see where he could take it. For once there wasn’t even any change in narrators or chronology! I love the idea of an insidious and all encompassing conspiracy and the paranoia that comes with it, and while I thought everything came together really well, I wanted more. Overall, you could call this the best starter book for post-modernism available. It’s short enough and traditional enough that you won’t feel overwhelmed and won’t have to suffer through too much if you don’t like it, but still strange and unique enough to show you how the style works. It left me wanting more, but if you’re at all interested in trying out Thomas Pynchon, give this book a try.