The Pynchon Project: Mason & Dixon

August 13, 2009 | Comments (0) | by Wolter

Pretentious? You bet!Or: Is Pomp Culture Making a Comeback?

Or: The Cubs Are So Wretched, I'm Turning To Literature.

Or: No Seriously, I Hate That Jeff Samardzija Just Started a Game.

Confession Time: I am addicted to Thomas Pynchon books. Utterly, completely addicted. His insane writing style, a mixture of James Joycean wordplay and stream of consciousness, Raymond Chandlerian pulp excess, and Joseph Helleresque paranoia and modernist neuroses really appeals to me on a deep level.

Confession Time, Part II: I am not nearly as addicted to actually finishing those books. Oh, I start them with the best intentions, but my (until recently undiagnosed) severe Adult ADHD has made me set them aside for shinier distractions. The problem with Pynchon is, the longer you set him down, the harder it is to remember just what the hell was going on the last time you held the book in your hands. Couple this with a prose style that often requires the casual reader to stop, go back, and reread a passage to figure out what just happened, and (if you're me), you end up with a lot of dog-eared and bookmarked detritus on the shelves.

Compounding Incident: Pynchon has recently released a new novel, Inherent Vice. From everything I can gather, it's a noir-detective novel dipped in a druggy paranoiac haze of decaying 60s idealism. And I want to read it so very badly.

"But Wolter," says my Better Judgment. "You have a metric ton of unread Pynchon on your shelf. And can you really justify a new purchase when you haven't even gotten your money's worth out of the last few?"

"Shut the hell up," I respond. "If I wanted the opinion of an anthropomorphized abstraction in my psyche, I'd ask my Inner Child."



And at this point my reverie devolves into nothing and my bookshelf gathers dust.

Economic Twist: Given the fact that I currently have less than $9 in my checking account right now, it seems much more viable to read what I have, instead of buying more things and not reading them.

The Insane Challenge: In the grand tradition of the TMS Bat Project and Chaim's Mustache Diaries, I am wading in feet first into a project that is no doubt doomed to failure: to read ALL of Pynchon's catalog that I own. All of it. Even the stuff I actually did finish (which includes, oddly enough, Gravity's Rainbow, which ranks up there with Finnegan's Wake on the "so-called classic no one ever actually reads" scale). If I can do that, and live to tell about it, then I will allow myself to invest in Inherent Vice. If I fail, I will be forced to tear the suede patches off my tweed jacket and admit I only have an undergraduate degree. The good news: thanks to the addition of ADHD-inhibiting drugs, I've already made it 117 pages into my first book...

The First Book: Mason & Dixon. The impetus behind this whole project. I picked this up and realized that, though I remembered loving what I had read of this, AND that I had a bookmark halfway through, I couldn't actually remember anything at all about the book.

The Story So Far: It's the late 18th Century, and the Rev'd Wicks Cherrycoke is in Philadelphia, telling his niece and nephew a tale of intrigue about his youth traveling the world (after his exile from England, under pain of losing his inherited income from his father). The tale centers around his travels with Mason & Dixon of the famed line (and one supposes Jars and Cups). Charles Mason is a young widower, a London resident given to melancholy whose favorite pastime is attending public hangings. Jeremiah Dixon is a boisterous, hard drinking apostate Quaker from up north. They travel together on a series of missions of Astronomical import, assailed (up to this point) by a French frigate, nubile underaged Dutch blondes, and an overabundance of mutton-based meals. Along the way, they encounter a Learned dog that gives sage advice, world traveling clocks that (like all acquaintances) spend most of their time discussing the weather, and the seductive charms of the exotic ketchup.

All in all, typical Pynchon. Now let's see if I can make it through this thing. I figure it's the least I can do after making the rest of you read this.

Note: Don't worry, bored reader. I will NOT be writing any other posts about this project, but I will be appending status updates to the end of my other, much more fascinating posts about Iron Maiden, Video Games, and The Brutal Murder I Have Planned for Jeff Samardzija.