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Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Gravity's Rainbow (original 1973; edition 1974)

by Thomas Pynchon

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7,37278477 (4.13)1 / 343
Title:Gravity's Rainbow
Authors:Thomas Pynchon
Collections:Your library
Tags:Modern American Lit.

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Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)

  1. 90
    Ulysses by James Joyce (Jen7r)
  2. 70
    Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (AndySandwich)
    AndySandwich: Books that cause neuroses.
  3. 52
    House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (AndySandwich)
    AndySandwich: Gravity's Rainbow = paranoia House of Leaves = claustrophobia
  4. 10
    Ratner's Star by Don DeLillo (rickyrickyricky)
    rickyrickyricky: Like Pynchon? Like DeLillo? Here we gots DeLillo's enthusiastic and goofy response to his own, favorable experience with Pynchon's most famous monsterwork. Wit, mathematical math and DeLillo dialogue.
  5. 10
    The Atrocity Exhibition by J. G. Ballard (StevenTX)
  6. 00
    Insatiability by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (StevenTX)
  7. 44
    Moby Dick by Herman Melville (ateolf)
  8. 00
    Crash Gordon and the Mysteries of Kingsburg by Derek Swannson (jasbro)

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Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
I read Gravity's Rainbow within a few months of William T. Vollmann's equally dense and WW2-focused Europe Central, and it made for interesting comparative reading (the former focused on the forces behind war and the later more on the personalities involved and how it shapes them).

Anyway..... Gravity's Rainbow doesn't make it onto my favourite's list, but it's undeniably a great book and, without having read Mason & Dixon or Against the Day, is the best thing I've read by Pynchon. It takes a lot of the themes of The Crying of Lot 49 and magnifies them to great effect. Some passages of the novel are better than others - Part 3 in the zone gets a little tedious at times - but overall the suffocating atmosphere of this is brilliant. Dense, dark days of war apply their weight and the sense of paranoia is palpable. Like in 2666, another mammoth tome of postmodern literature, the atmosphere is all important and brilliantly evoked. Slothrop might not end the novel a particularly rounded, or even that interesting character, but the world he inhabits pulls you in and is hard to escape. ( )
1 vote DRFP | Jan 19, 2015 |

Dense, funny and brilliant. This is a good book that fully deserves it's reputation as a difficult read. There are so many great reviews and explanations already written that I don't feel a need to write anything lengthy here. Suffice to say that I liked this book but am very glad to be done with it, (for now). Gravity's Rainbow is a story one never really finishes and I expect I will find myself thumbing through it on a regular basis. ( )
  ScoLgo | Jan 2, 2015 |
Caveat Lector: There is no way to summarize such an enormous novel with any type of justice. Here lies a book that is a creative germ. It is really one where you allow it to wash over you and as it washes over you, the sand and particles stick to you, it is a book so creative it pushes one to comprehend it. The ascent is one worth taking. This review takes one of the angles I found while reading Gravity's Rainbow. I could choose a number of off ramps to focus my attention on but I have to take one so here it goes:
Finally finished and loved it know time for digestion of the white goddess maybe a lightbulb moment will arrive in just the right time. This book deserves a re-read, but not anytime too soon. Love to hear from you about Gravity's Rainbow. ( )
  Gregorio_Roth | Dec 5, 2014 |
  behemothing | Oct 25, 2014 |
I finally got around to reading “Gravity’s Rainbow” – all 887 pages of the Bantam edition – which had been sitting on my bookshelf for about 30 years. Is it a work of genius? Yes. Is it easy to read? No. Is it worth reading? Too late for me. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

If you do read it, some helpful resources are available. Michael Davitt Bell wrote “Some things that ‘happen’ (more or less) in Gravity’s Rainbow” in 1980 as a guide for a class at Williams College. It was helpful to read Bell’s summary of an episode, then read the episode itself in the novel, and then return to Bell’s summary if necessary. Also, Steven Weisenburger’s book “A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon’s Novel” (originally published in 1988 and in 2006 as an updated expanded second edition) is a useful reference to help understand Pynchon’s countless allusions (if you’re so inclined). The Gravity’s Rainbow wiki website http://gravitys-rainbow.pynchonwiki.com/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page also is helpful, especially the alphabetical glossary where you can look up troubling terms or reappearing characters whom you’ve forgotten (there are way too many characters in this book to keep track of – they appear briefly, then disappear only to reappear 100’s of pages later). Finally, I found some of the “11 steps for reading a Pynchon novel” at http://www.wikihow.com/Read-a-Thomas-Pynchon-Novel entertaining. The advice helped me “let go” and read the book without worrying if I understood what was going on or not.

In the introduction to his book, Weisenberger talks about Pynchon writing the novel in New York and California, saying, “Visitors to his cave-like rooms perched two blocks up from the Pacific in Manhattan Beach, a Los Angeles suburb, recall only a cot, desk, and some bookshelves. One ruling spirit of the place was a monkish impermanence; another, his warm, nonchalant eccentricity.” I went to Loyola Marymount University from 1969-1972 and spent a lot of time hanging out with friends who lived in Manhattan Beach and whose father taught English at LMU. It’s crazy (for me at least) to think that Pynchon was writing Gravity’s Rainbow “in neat, tiny script on engineers’ quadrille paper” right down the road at the time.

So, what is the book about? To a large extent, it’s another World War II novel. Set in France, England, and occupied Germany in 1944 and 1945, it’s about the German V-2 rocket program. What however is one to make of a book about a hero (Tyrone Slothrop) whose sexual excitement predicts the timing and location of attacks by German V-2 rockets in London near the end of the war? He’s being chased all over Europe as a result of his uncanny ability, which turns out to be a consequence of his being conditioned as an infant by the evil Dr. Lazlo Jamf to respond sexually to a component of the rocket – imipolex G.

The German V-2 rocket or “vengeance weapon” was launched against targets in London beginning in late 1944. It was the first inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM). After the war, American and Soviet collaboration with German engineers who had worked on the project led to development of nuclear-armed descendants of the V-2. In a real-life, bizarre sequence of events worthy of a paranoic Pynchon novel, part of the original V-2 team, headed by Wernher von Braun, actually ended up working for NASA and helped design the Saturn rockets that ultimately landed a man on the moon (courtesy Wikipedia).

In the original New York Times book review of 1973, the novel is described as “bone-crushingly dense, compulsively elaborate, silly, obscene, funny, tragic, pastoral, historical, philosophical, poetic, grindingly dull, inspired, horrific, cold, bloated, beached, and blasted.” That seems like a pretty accurate description. I might delete “pastoral” and add “drugged out.” Mixed with the V-2 rocket engineering story are probability and statistics (along with mathematical formulas), spiritualism, Pavlovian conditioning, chemical engineering, international industry cartels, sadomasochism, and drugs of all sorts (real and imagined) – just to name a few things – and a lot of sheer insanity. For example, the episode where Slothrup is travelling in a hot air balloon with a character named Schnorp to deliver custard pies to the Berlin black market. They are chased by Major Marvy (one of Slothrop’s nemeses) in a plane, from which they escape by throwing pies at the plane’s engine and windshield. In another episode, Drs. Muffage and Spontoon (working for Pointsman) chase Slothrop (last seen wearing a pig costume) in Cuxhaven. At Putzi’s (a combination casino-drug den-whorehouse), Major Marvy is sidetracked by a whore, and when MP’s raid the place, he tries to escape in the pig costume only to be caught, sedated, and castrated (related in graphic surgical detail) by Muffage and Spontoon, who mistake him for Slothrop. Episodes like these and many others make me wonder just how many drugs Pynchon was taking in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Then there’s the coprophilia thing – the time Slothrop loses his harmonica in the toilet and dives after it. It brought to mind episodes from Jonathan Franzen’s “Corrections” and “Freedom.” Was Franzen channeling Pynchon while writing those? It had to be intentional. No Pulitzer Prize was awarded for fiction in 1974 because, although “Gravity’s Rainbow” was selected by the jury on fiction, some of the board members were offended by the episode and rejected the selection.

Not surprisingly, I struggled to relate to the characters in this book and found myself classifying them as heroes/victims (Slothrop, Mexico, Pökler) and villains/perpetrators (Pointsman, Jamf, Weissman, Marvy). Roger Mexico’s doomed love for Jessica Swanlake and Franz Pökler’s dismal life and sad visits with his daughter Ilse while working on the rocket project at the Mittelwerke in Nordhausen aroused sympathy. Katje Borgesius was tough to categorize, but her affection for Slothrop and manipulation by Pointsman put her in the hero/victim category for me. I confess I like a relatively linear plot with a manageable number of characters who are developed in sufficient detail to generate sympathy. I don’t even mind a lot of flashbacks and flash-forwards if things are pulled together at the end. Thus, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t invest the time to read another 900-page book by Pynchon. I’m too old and my bucket list of books is too long. ( )
3 vote sdibartola | Sep 28, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
Those who have read Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow know that those 700+ pages add up to more than just a novel; it’s an experience. The hundreds of characters are difficult to follow, the plot is nonsensical, sex is graphically depicted, drugs are smoked out of a kazoo and a poor light bulb goes through many humiliating experiences. But the brilliance of Gravity’s Rainbow is not in spite of its oddness but because of it.
Like one of his main characters, Pynchon in this book seems almost to be "in love, in sexual love, with his own death." His imagination--for all its glorious power and intelligence--is as limited in its way as Céline's or Jonathan Swift's. His novel is in this sense a work of paranoid genius, a magnificent necropolis that will take its place amidst the grand detritus of our culture. Its teetering structure is greater by far than the many surrounding literary shacks and hovels. But we must look to other writers for food and warmth.

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Thomas Pynchonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bergsma, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Britto, Paulo HenriquesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Doury, MichelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fučík, ZdeněkTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gryzunovoĭ, AnastasiiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jelinek, ElfriedeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koshikawa, YoshiakiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miller, FrankCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Natale, GiuseppeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nemt︠s︡ova, MaksimaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nilsson, Hans-JacobTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ondráčková, HanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pigrau i Rodríguez, AntoniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Piltz, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sudół, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zabel, IgorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation. Everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death." - Wernher von Braun (Beyond the Zero)
"You will have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood." - Merian C. Cooper to Fay Wray (Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering)
"Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas any more...." - Dorothy, arriving in Oz (In the Zone)
"What?" - Richard M. Nixon (The Counterforce)
For Richard Farina
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A screaming comes across the sky.
This classic hustle is still famous, even today, for the cold purity of its execution: bring opium from India, introduce it into China - howdy Fong, this here's opium, opium, this is Fong - ah, so, me eatee! - no-ho-ho, Fong, you smokee, [smokee], see? pretty soon Fong's coming back for more and more, so you create an inelastic demand for the shit, get China to make it illegal, then sucker China into a couple-three disastrous wars over the right of your merchants to sell opium, which by now you are describing as sacred. You win, China loses. Fantastic.

A former self is a fool, an insufferable ass, but he's still human, you'd no more turn him out than you'd turn out any other kind of cripple, would you?
They'll always tell you fathers are 'taken,' but fathers only leave - that's what it really is. The fathers are all covering for each other, that's all.
If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answer.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0143039946, Paperback)

Tyrone Slothrop, a GI in London in 1944, has a big problem. Whenever he gets an erection, a Blitz bomb hits. Slothrop gets excited, and then (as Thomas Pynchon puts it in his sinister, insinuatingly sibilant opening sentence), "a screaming comes across the sky," heralding an angel of death, a V-2 rocket. The novel's title, Gravity's Rainbow, refers to the rocket's vapor arc, a cruel dark parody of what God sent Noah to symbolize his promise never to destroy humanity again. History has been a big trick: the plan is to switch from floods to obliterating fire from the sky.

Slothrop's father was an unwitting part of the cosmic doublecross. To provide for the boy's future Harvard education, he took cash from the mad German scientist Laszlo Jamf, who performed Pavlovian experiments on the infant Tyrone. Laszlo invented Imipolex G, a new plastic useful in rocket insulation, and conditioned Tyrone's privates to respond to its presence. Now the grown-up Tyrone helplessly senses the Imipolex G in incoming V-2s, and his military superiors are investigating him. Soon he is on the run from legions of bizarre enemies through the phantasmagoric horrors of Germany.

That's just the Imipolex G tip of the shrieking vehicle that is Pynchon's book. It's pretty much impossible to follow a standard plot; one must have faith that each manic episode is connected with the great plot to blow up the world with the ultimate rocket. There is not one story, but a proliferation of characters (Pirate Prentice, Teddy Bloat, Tantivy Mucker-Maffick, Saure Bummer, and more) and events that tantalize the reader with suggestions of vast patterns only just past our comprehension. You will enjoy Pynchon's cartoon inferno far more if you consult Steven Weisenburger's brief companion to the novel, which sorts out Pynchon's blizzard of references to science, history, high culture, and the lowest of jokes. Rest easy: there really is a simple reason why Kekulé von Stradonitz's dream about a serpent biting its tail (which solved the structure of the benzene molecule) belongs in the same novel as the comic-book-hero Plastic Man.

Pynchon doesn't want you to rest easy with solved mysteries, though. Gravity's Rainbow uses beautiful prose to induce an altered state of consciousness, a buzz. It's a trip, and it will last. --Tim Appelo

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:19 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Winner of the 1973 National Book Award, Gravity's Rainbow is a postmodern epic, a work as exhaustively significant to the second half of the twentieth century as Joyce's Ulysses was to the first. Its sprawling, encyclopedic narrative and penetrating analysis of the impact of technology on society make it an intellectual tour de force.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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