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Monday, March 06, 2017

The Crying of Lot 49 (1965) by Thomas Pynchon

Image result for the crying of lot 49
The muted trumpet symbol from The Crying of Lot 49 is a recognizable calling card for Pynchon fans and their progeny.
Book Review
The Crying of Lot 49 (1965)
 by Thomas Pynchon

  The Crying of Lot 49 is usually the only Thomas Pynchon book that a college undergraduate is likely to come across during survey level literature classes.  That is because, unlike all other of Pynchon's books, it is brief- a novella, not a novel.  It's not exactly a puzzling or unjustified selection, but it seems strange to include Pynchon's second published work when his first book, V, published in 1963, is pretty much a sprawling masterpiece.   Perhaps the choice is a nod to the truth that no normal reader is going to read anything Pynchon wrote except The Crying of Lot 49.

  The Crying of Lot 49 is often described as an early post-modern masterpiece AND a knowing parody of post-modernism, and both descriptions reflect that is hard to say, what, exactly, is going on in The Crying of Lot 49- both on the surface and underneath.  On the surface, The Crying of Lot 49 is the story of Oedipus Maas, who is appointed executor of her mysterious ex-boy friend's sprawling estate.  The estate includes an enormous stamp collection which features the only known evidence of two ultra secret private postal services that flourished in the early modern period.   Maas travels a very recognizable early 1960's California, encountering Beatles-style rock bands and Kesey style new-age gurus.

  Pynchon's accurate characterization of the psychedelic 1960's as it was happening is the most astonishing part of The Crying of Lot 49.  It's hard to believe that it was written in 1965, rather than 1985.  

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