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Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Gravity's Rainbow (original 1973; edition 2000)

by Thomas Pynchon

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8,04393399 (4.1)1 / 408
Title:Gravity's Rainbow
Authors:Thomas Pynchon
Info:Penguin Books (2000), Edition: Later Printing, Paperback, 784 pages
Collections:Currently reading

Work details

Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)

  1. 80
    Ulysses by James Joyce (Jen7r)
  2. 60
    Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (AndySandwich)
    AndySandwich: Books that cause neuroses.
  3. 42
    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 (alaskayo)
    alaskayo: 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. 44
    Moby Dick by Herman Melville (ateolf)
  6. 00
    Crash Gordon and the Mysteries of Kingsburg by Derek Swannson (jasbro)

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Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
GRAVITY'S RAINBOW is just as hard to read, as it is to comprehend. Likewise it is almost impossible to write a coherent review. One feels a sense of exasperation with its length, density, and lack of coherence. Undoubtedly there are many grand themes hidden in writing that is always humorous and often quite clever. Yet one gets the feeling that Pynchon was driven more to expand his plot, characters and overall craziness than to create an experience that most readers can comprehend.

The basic plot is simple. Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop seems to be able to predict V2 rocket strikes during Britain’s blitz based on his level of sexual arousal. Inexplicably, British intelligence sends him on a search for the mysterious rocket 00000 in post-war Europe. This is characterized by a series of misadventures; plot twists; and intrigues that are almost impossible to make sense of. Most of the characters are never really developed. Instead they come and go, all the while injecting humor and craziness into the narrative while continuously challenging the reader’s perseverance.

The novel’s complexity is so great that it leaves one bemused and wondering just what it is all about. Some reviewers have attempted to tackle that question with mixed success, suggesting themes like the “neurotic instability” that comes with war; the lack of meaning in life; blacks and blackness; drugs and sex; paranoia, and even death. All of those elements are clearly present, but none ever rises to the level of a coherent theme.

What can one make of such a book? Clearly it is the work of a fertile imagination filled with much humor, historical insight, philosophy and occasional lyrical writing. Clearly, Pynchon knows a lot of facts but his tendencies to randomly insert them into his narrative with only the remotest relevance to his story make for an unsettling and—in the final analysis—boring reading experience. I’m sure that one could get more from a second reading of this novel, but life’s short and there are too many other things to experience. ( )
  ozzer | Jun 26, 2017 |
This is a complex novel which appears to me to be a study of the relationship between master and victim. The author is a writer who enjoys the vocabulary, and range of english . Frankly he shows of his command of narrative styles, and is consciously creating a puzzle for his readers, hoping to lead them from one brilliant figure of speech to another and hoping that we will derive an impression of what he has to say rather then setting up a definite conclusion and moral. I'd train for reading this novel by reading Heller's "Catch-22", first, and then Joyce's "Ulysses" You would do them in that order, and if possible one right after each other to maintain the headspace necessary for maximum insight. Taper off afterwards by reading Neal Stephenson. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Sep 9, 2016 |
26. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
published: 1973
format: 887 page Bantam mass market paperback from 1974
acquired: June 2015 from a Half-Price Bookstore, specifically to read this year.
read: Apr 1 - May 22
rating: ? stars

This is such an oddball book. Some big unanswered questions: Why? Why would someone ever write a book like this? What are we supposed to do with it, once we read it? I mean where in your mental constructs do can you fit this monstrosity? I wonder if anyone re-reads this just to see if, maybe on the second read, they will figure out where/how to mentally store it.

An architecturally elaborate book, it does have a structure and you can work it out on the first read, at least if you have a little help. There is sensible plot. You may, however, not understand what exactly you are reading at any particular point. I re-read a few parts, happy to be able to read them while knowing where they fit in full book context...and still got lost. Words just refuse to align in any sensible way. You have to stand back and, kind of knowing what just happened, let the words get all blurry before they start to make sense. Then you have go back to the text to see what exactly key words mean—while avoiding the sentences those words are in, because the sentences are just a distraction, they go everywhere. This book is patently unquotable.

"A peaceful, drunken day..."

Amongst the confetti is a drug addled, sexually-charged, deviant and typically seriously disturbing wackyness—all with that happy face stretched across a very dark interior. Pynchon pulls in cinematic elements, mainly in overly happy Hollywood style movies of, say the 1930's-40's-50's-60's. Then he twirls in a verbal comicbook element. (He keys on Plastic Man, a WWII-era comic where Plastic Man can take on any conceivable shape and stretching.) These superhero comic books can do this thing where so much happens on the page that you can miss half of it because of all the noise. Then you focus in and notice key plot elements in tiny details, which you kind of need to take in in exclusion to everything else on the page. And, of course, like in movies, there is a hollow happiness in these comics. Pynchon does all this in text form. I would argue it doesn't work...well, it shouldn't. It can be very hard a little minds like mine.

So, why does it work? I don't know.

Plot summary 1: US army Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop searches for a specific V2 rocket, while stumbling across the human and structural rubble of WWII, and, in the process does lots of drugs, has lots of deviant sex, hallucinates continually, and deals with a cast of characters that makes him seem comparatively normal, not to mention a nice humble guy.

This book is a mystery in construction.

The key to the opening section is a map of London on which Slothrop plots all his sexual exploits throughout the area. He's mapped a slew of them. What British intelligence is noting is that the map predicts V2 missile strikes. Each sexual exploit happens a few days before a V2 rocket strike in the same spot.

The V2 rocket - essential background information: The German V2, or Vengeance-2 (but in German), rockets were used at the very end of WW2 by a pretty much defeated Germany. They were the first human object to enter space, they traveled at supersonic speed and had the capacity to kill up to 500 people at a strike, which they did at least once. They were terribly imprecise, so their striking spread was pretty much random and their hit rate low. And they were too small, despite that explosive charge, to have any impact on the war effort. Germany fired 3000 V2 rockets and they killed about 9,000 people - plus the 12,000 slave laborers from concentration camps who died while building them. This was all, militarily, pointless. The technology was desperately desired by British, Americans and Soviets, leading to some surreal post-war antics. At one point Americans stumbled across a major V2 rocket works site in an area that was supposed to go to the USSR. So, Americans then furiously took everything they could as fast as they could before ceding the area to the Soviet army. And, a final note, all the German engineers involved were sought after and lured to the US and USSR. So Wernher von Braun, leader of all this German mess, will end up as the leader of the NASA group that designed and built the Saturn V rocket (notice the name), and would live scott-free of any consequences for his crimes. Germany surrendered May 8, 1945. The atomic bomb, which was not a rocket, was dropped on August 6, 1945.

So, right, the plot. Slothrop was an experiment. As a baby he was sold for psychological experimentation. He was conditioned, in the Pavlov's dog sense, in some sexual way as a baby. So, now he's get erections that he can't understand all at very strange times. A V2 rocket strike is one cause. But, sometimes very non-sexual people can also be a cause. Slothrop knows he's conditioned but can't figure out in what way. The mystery is how all this relates to his V2 strike prediction and then what allied intelligence plans to do with him. Later in the book he will be trained about everything related to the V2 and become convinced that some aspect of one rocket holds a key understanding his own conditioning. This will lead him to go awol and take a tour of occupied Germany.

And the solution to the mystery is really dark. (Major, real and unnecessary spoiler: As far as I can tell, Pynchon tells us the answer in plain words. Slothrop is conditioned to be in love, or at least lust, with human extinction. Hiroshima sends him into ecstasy overload, and he dissolves, spreading elements of himself everywhere. What I find odd about this conclusion is that I can't find it discussed in this simplistic way anywhere. This may be because I got it wrong—this is very likely. Alternately, it may such a spoiler as to have a sort of forbidden sense to it. Don't know. But it changes everything about the book, each element involving Slothrop becomes much more twisted. )

What makes this book work (but does it really work?) is how Pynchon combines all the elements together - the styles and disturbing stuff, the humor, the 400 characters, the numerous subplots, non-fictional elements and revelations, the endless remarkable trivia touching on the insane amount of research that underlies the book, and Slothrop's happy-go-lucky attitude. (Regarding the last item, keep in mind Slothrop spends numerous pages wandering around in a rocketman suit, with cape and rocket-shaped viking helmet, and many other pages in a pig suit). The comic book elements, and the hollow happiness defines the whole book, even as it touches on occasional real happiness here and there. There are enough non-fictional elements to really bother the reader. It's ultimately about how we are marching happily toward our nuclear holocaust.* (second unnecessary spoiler Assuming I'm right, I find the focus on the rocket a structural flaw. The key element to the nuclear holocaust is the nuclear physics, not the comparatively simpler rocket that can carry these warheads. But rockets are much more phallic then nuclear reactions. )

I promise you I haven't touched on the vast assortment of elements within this book, and I haven't been able to convey the warped experience of reading this. I really felt disconnected from the world during these two months I plodded through. It's a warping and not exactly pleasant experience. I didn't enjoy it so much as survive it. And yet...I'll try to read more Pynchon.

*or maybe it isn't.
8 vote dchaikin | May 28, 2016 |
I thought about adding a "WTF" shelf just for this book. Alas, better judgement.

I know many people love this book. I know this because I googled and read many people's ideas about this book as I trudged through these pages. I hoped, dreamed, indeed, I YEARNED for some help. How to read this thing?

Alas, no matter how much people loved this book, they simply couldn't help me see their light.

I'll take the blame. Maybe I'm too plot-bound (though I do, indeed, love many books that are light on plot). Maybe I like characters too much. Maybe the poop-eating scene turned my stomach so much I read the rest of the novel prepared to shut my eyes, to not look.

Maybe. But really... This book just mystified me. For the first quarter or so I took notes. I thought it was helping, and then it wasn't. I tried re-reading. I tried reading more slowly. I tried shorter reading periods, longer reading periods. Nothing worked.

Fact: I just hated this book. Never in my working memory have I dreaded five weeks of "pleasure reading" so thoroughly. I found myself simply reading to plow through words, enjoying the periodic clever turn of phrase (and there are quite a few of these), trying to catch some gist of something amidst the clutter of words that just felt like... snippets of text.

I could not find the train of thought.

This book passed me by. For five whole weeks.

I never take five weeks to finish a blasted novel. ( )
3 vote ThePortPorts | May 1, 2016 |

Gravity’s Rainbow is set in Europe at the end of World War 2. Superficially, the plot focusses on the development and distribution of the German V2 rocket and its potential connection to the sexual conquests of American soldier, Tyrone Slothrop.

It is in every sense a narrative of paranoia; the word ‘paranoia’ itself features heavily as various coincidences mount, inviting characters and the reader to make connections and draw seemingly impossible conclusions. Has Slothrop’s Pavlovian conditioning as an infant left him able to predict incoming rockets by his erections? And, the question at the heart of the novel: Are “They” out to get him?

Alongside the Slothrop plot run a number of interweaving characters and stories, connected to a variety of acronymic agencies and their subdivisions all working with, against and for each other in some capacity at various points in the novel. The interrelationship of these agencies and their double or triple agents lends the novel the ‘trust no-one’ outlook of a contemporary thriller, but the underlying confusion of all parties turns it into a farce.

This brings me to the first thing that should recommend this book to any reader; it is funny. The comedy ranges from the surface play of slapstick action and laddish gutter humour to the depths of an incisive ironic wit.

The comedy is both an end in itself, and also a means to underline and throw into relief the more serious, political and thematic elements of the novel. This is particularly relevant to the bawdy songs and limericks scattered throughout the book:

There once was a fellow named Ritter,
Who slept with a guidance transmitter.
It shrivelled his cock,
Which fell off in his sock,
And made him exceedingly bitter.

This section of laddish humour sums up a lot of the ideas in the overall novel; namely, threatened masculinity and the problem of fertility (both biological and artistic) in a technological and war torn age.

All this war, technology and “banter” does make for a very ‘masculine’ novel, if we are to speak of it in gendered terms, and the reduction of women to coloured stars on Slothrop’s map of London opens up a serious line of inquiry for feminist critics.

That said, the novel’s preoccupation with scrutinising notions of masculinity, more specifically the diminishing centrality of the “white heterosexual male” resists labels of misogyny, homophobia or racism, while dealing with sensitive gender, sexuality and race issues from the other side, as it were.

Pynchon’s novel doesn’t shy away from these issues or from representations that may be challenging or potentially offensive. This is perhaps most obvious in the controversial coprophilia scene (fun with faeces) which offended members of the Pulitzer board so much that despite the Pulitzer jury selecting Gravity’s Rainbow for the prize in 1974, no prize was actually awarded that year.

See my full review: https://ahermitsprogress.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/gravitys-rainbow-funny-fearless-and-phantasmagorical/ ( )
  Victoria_A | Mar 11, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
There’s a dirty secret tucked away in Thomas Pynchon’s novels, and it’s this: beyond all the postmodernism and paranoia, the anarchism and socialism, the investigations into global power, the forays into labor politics and feminism and critical race theory, the rocket science, the fourth-dimensional mathematics, the philatelic conspiracies, the ’60s radicalism and everything else that has spawned 70 or 80 monographs, probably twice as many dissertations, and hundreds if not thousands of scholarly essays, his novels are full of cheesy love stories.
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
Pynchon, Thomasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bergsma, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Britto, Paulo HenriquesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Doury, MichelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fučík, ZdeněkTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gryzunovoĭ, AnastasiiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jelinek, ElfriedeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koshikawa, YoshiakiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindholm, JuhaniTranslatorsecondary 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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:51 -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)

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