Frequently Asked Questions About Thomas Pynchon

Original Version by (September 1994)
HTML Version by (May 1995)

Pynchon resources on the Net

Which book should I read first?

The majority opinion seems to be that The Crying of Lot 49 is the best starting point for newcomers to Pynchon. It's short, funny and clearly plotted (for TP, anyway), and it introduces many of his characteristic themes: paranoia, conspiracy, drugs, science, etc.

"Vineland" is longer, more conventional, more hopeless, less rich in ideas. GR is Pynchon's masterpiece, difficult, but not as difficult as Joyce's "Ulysses". "V" is his first novel, sprawling, awkward, but with many rewards.

A thoroughly enjoyable book of TP's early stories is available as "Slow Learner", with a painfully honest self-evaluation in the introduction.

Biographic timeline for Thomas Pynchon

17th C.   Paralleling the Slothrops of GR, early Pynchons settle Massachusetts
1937   Thomas Ruggles Pynchon born May 8 in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York
1940s   Avid reader of spy novels: John Buchan, Oppenheim, MacInnes, Household
1953-59   Cornell U engineering major, took? a class w/Nabokov, met R. Farin~a
1955-57   Two year stint in Navy provides background for V, etc.
1959-60   Greenwich Village bohemianism, pot smoking, idolizes Monk, begins V.
1960-62   Writing PR for Boeing in Seattle, model for Yoyodyne
1962   Moves to Mexico to finish V.
1963   "V." published, wins Faulkner Award; cultivates habit of privacy
1964   "The Secret Integration" in Sat. Eve. Post introduces Hogan Slothrop
1965   Living in Manhattan Beach, California
1966   "Crying of Lot 49" published; NYT Magazine article on Watts June 12
1967   Lot 49 wins Rosenthal Award
1967-72   Silent years, California and Mexico, lots of drugs (presumably)
1973   "Gravity's Rainbow" published Feb 28, universally hailed as classic
1974   Joseph Slade's "Thomas Pynchon" 1st booklength critical study (pprback)
1975   Pynchon declines William Dean Howells Medal
1984   Early stories pub'd as "Slow Learner"; NYTBR essay on Ludditism Oct 28
1988   MacArthur Foundation genius grant
1988   "A Gravity's Rainbow Companion" by Steven Weisenburger collects
massive annotations
1990   "Vineland" published; TP marries agent?  moves to NYC?
1993   NYTBR essay on Sloth: "Nearer, my couch, to thee" Jun 6
1997   Mason & Dixon published by Henry Holt. 

Where is the 'real' setting of Vineland?

Rumors place Pynchon in the town of Aptos, California for about ten years, supplying locales for Vineland. Santa Cruz, Watsonville, and the El Porto section of Manhattan Beach have also been mentioned.

Vineland plot-summary

Feminist film collective 24fps covers a college revolution led by Weed Frenesi falls for fascist Brock because of her genetic weakness for uniforms Brock asks her to set up Weed's murder, she goes along for no good reason Fleeing Brock, Frenesi marries Zoyd completely at random, Prairie born Fleeing Zoyd, Frenesi marries Fletch(?) settles into life as gov't informant Brock entraps Zoyd with pot-bale, releases him (why?) as a welfare-loony DL enlisted by Ralph to kill Brock, attacks Takeshi by mistake -> partners [Uneventful years?] Frenesi freed from gov't obligations due to budget cuts Brock mounts final revenge campaign (why?), seizes Zoyd's home Prairie meets DL, learns Frenesi's story Prairie and Frenesi reunited in Vineland (w/Sasha and Zoyd, etc) Brock's try at abducting Prairie interrupted by Reagan's serendipitous order Prairie, too, is smitten by Brock's fascism, even as her family is reunited

Pynchon-watching: references, sightings

Students at Princeton during the second half of the 80s used to stage yearly readings of the entire text of GR.

A possibly-apocryphal Cliff Notes for GR makes an appearance in the movie "Miracle Mile" (a remarkable sleeper).

Kurt Cobain's hit "Smells like Teen Spirit" was supposedly inspired by his reading of GR, possibly by the song on pages V538/B627: "Ah, they do bother him, these free women in their teens, their spirits are so contagious, [indented lyrics:] I'll tell you it's just --out, --ray, --juss, / Spirit is so --con, tay, --juss, / Nobody knows their a-ges..."

The hunt is on for these (extremely rare) Pynchon photos:

Who else should I read, if I like Pynchon?

Gravity's Rainbow chapter-by-chapter index of events

This synopsis is intended to serve as an index (to both editions) and a memory-refresher. It's condensed (by from a longer version available from Alec W McHoul .

1: BEYOND THE ZERO, pp1-177/1-207 (W. von Braun quote)

3/3   Pirate's dream and waking
7/8   Banana Breakfast; Pirate's ESP; the giant Adenoid
17/19   Teddy Bloat photographs TS's map
20/22   TS inspects the V2 site; details of his history
29/33   Jessica at seance; Microfilm Drill; Jessica and Roger
37/42   Mexico and Jessica's life together; Pointsman's dogs
42/48   Pointsman hunts the dog; The Book.
47/54   Spectro and Pointsman discuss TS; the octopus
53/61   Mexico and Jessica get up; Mexico at work; the two at home
60/69   TS under truth-drug: down-the-toilet, Kenosha Kid
71/81   Jamf's Kryptosam; Pirate and Scorpia "make love"
72/83   White Visitation; Pudding's briefing; Le Froyd episode
83/96   TS's "condition" and Jamf connection
92/107   Katje, Gottfried and Blicero. Pirate, Osbie, dodo
114/132   TS and Darlene, the Disgusting English Candy drill
120/140   Mexico, Jessica, sex, midget-truck, Beaver, Xmas church
136/159   "You" dream; Spectro's death, White Visitation, Pointsman
145/169   White Visitation's freaks; ESP; Jamf psycho-chemistry; Angel
154/180   Leni leaves Franz; Leni's history; seance at Peter Sachsa's
167/195   Pointsman, Gwenhidwy, Xmas-party blowjob; City Paranoiac
174/203   Jessica's sister's; pantomime of Hansel & Gretel; Penelope

2: UN PERM' AU CASINO HERMANN GOERING, pp179-278/209-323 (MC Cooper quote)
South of France, March 1945
181/211   TS, Mucker-Maffick and Bloat go to the beach
189/220   Octopus; TS with Katje, chase, secret gaming room
205/239   TS, Katje, Sir Stephen's Confession; Eventyr, Sachsa, Leni
226/263   White Visitation, rat dance, Pudding and Mistress of the Night
236/275   White Vis.; Casino, TS, Feldspath, Bounce, IG Farben, Shell, ICI
244/284   Party at Raoul's, Waxwing and Sherman tank; TS's zoot suit
249/290   Imipolex G, Tantivy's death, TS to Nice, first mention of 00000
257/299   Zurich: TS meets Schweitar, deal w/Squalidozzi, Geneva, Jamf's grave
269/313   Pointsman at seaside going nuts, end of war, Schwarzkommando real

3: IN THE ZONE, pp279-616/325-718. ("Toto, I have a feeling..." Dorothy)

281/327   TS in Zone, Nordhausen, child, Marvy, Enzian and Geli, Tchitcherine
295/343   TS tours Rocket-caves, architecture, Glimf, chase by Marvy's Men
314/365   Enzian, Schwarzkommando, Hereroes, Blicero/Weissmann, Tchitcherine
329/382   TS and Geli on clifftop; balloon pie-fight
336/391   Tchitcherine, language program, Enzian, singing duel, Kirghiz Light
359/418   TS sick, Schwarzk. find A4, Rocketman outfit; Bodine; Dope Deal
371/432   Rocketman to Potsdam to pick up dope, Max Schlepzig ID
383/446   Argentine U-boat, Squalidozzi in Bavaria, der Springer/von Goll
390/454   Tchitcherine on interrogation of TS, "Black" theme
392/456   TS meets Greta; sado-masochism scene, Bianca
397/462   Pokler; Ilse; Mondaugen, Frieda the pig, Leni interned by SS
433/505   TS in Berlin, chess-knight, Saure's; Greta; Rocketman; dreams
448/522   Toiletship Rucksichtslos; Schwarzkommando interrogate Achtfaden
457/532   TS and Greta; Bad Karma; Anubis; Thanatz, Bianca, orgy scene.
468/546   Bianca and TS, sex. mention of TS's woman in America
473/551   Morituri; Greta hides; Bianca & Thanatz vanish; TS new costume
482/562   Greta's pasts: cowgirl, necrophiliac, Bianca, Thanatz, s&m
488/569   On board Anubis, TS loses interest in his quest
492/573   Frau Gnahb's boat; TS meets Springer; Peenemunde; Mother Conspiracy
505/589   Rescue of Springer; Mondaugen's Law; TS Russian costume; Narrisch
518/604   Maria's abortion; Enzian's speed-vision; Pavel and the Moss Creature
525/612   Swinemunde with Gnahb; Springer gets TS a discharge; raid on Anubis
532/620   White Vis., Pudding dead, Katje watches Osbie's films of her
537/625   PP at Old Firm Conv., PP & Katje; How I Came to Love the People
549/639   TS's dream of Tantivy; Ludwig's lemming; Wm Slothrop; Major Marvy
557/649   Marvy & Chiclitz put TS on to Schwarzk., info swap on S-Gerat
563/656   Marvy and Tchitcherine; Tchitcherine's vision of the Rocket cartel
567/660   Pig fest in Cuxhaven; Frieda leads TS to Pokler
577/672   Pokler reflects to TS: old German movie fetishes, Jamf's lectures
580/676   Lyle Bland, the Masons, pinball, astral travel
591/689   Muffage and Spontoon castrate Marvy; Bodine's Runcible Spoon Fight
610/711   Tchitcherine, Argentinians, Pointsman; Mossmoon and Sir Marcus

4: THE COUNTERFORCE, pp617-760/719-887. ("What?" RM Nixon)

619/721   TS w/harmonica; PP hijacks plane; Saure & Gustav on music
626/729   Mexico in Zone; Pointsman, Prentice; idea of Counterforce
640/746   Colonel's haircut; Skippy, Happyville, Byron the Bulb; Jamf
656/764   Katje meets Enzian - they talk of TS and Blicero
663/772   Thanatz & lightning-struck; homosexual camp; Schwarzk.
674/785   TS & super-heroes; father-conspiracy; Naline's letter; Ass
Backwards; Shit'n'Shinola; sodium bomb; Kamikazes; sun's sound-shadow;
Broderick Slothrop; Imipolex G
700/816   Tchitcherine, dope, religion, Marxism, Jamf, Pokler, Haunting
706/823   Gross Suckling; kazoo quartet; Mexico and Bodine's gross-out fest
717/836   Geli looks for Tch.; Blicero talks to Gottfried
724/845   Schwarzk. and 00001 trek; Rocket theology; Ludwig and Katje
733/855   Geli's spell; Tch. meets Enzian w/o realizing
735/857   TS fragmenting; Mingeborough; W's Tarot; 00000 launch; Zhlubb

Grateful acknowledgements to the Pynchon-L All-Stars: Alec McHoul, Andrew Dinn, Basileios Drolias, Bob Millard, Bob Orlowsky, Brian Stonehill, Chris Stoltz, Dana Bordan, Evan M. Corcoran, Greg Garwin, Heikki Raudaskoski, Jody Keith Gilbert, John M. Krafft, Matthew P. Weiner, Robert M. Unverzagt, Steve Weisenburger, Stuart Moulthrop, Timothy C. May, and Will Hugot(?)

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