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Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

Against the Day

by Thomas Pynchon

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2,350402,676 (4.08)152
  1. 03
    Bioshock: Infinite by Irrational Games (rickyrickyricky)
    rickyrickyricky: A video game that takes its nods where it wants to from Pynchon's latest monsterwork. An involving story with revolutionary AI and character development in another steampunk'd, quantum mechanix'd reimagining of the original Chicago World's Fair and all the tropes that came with the times.… (more)

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English (38)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (40)
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
Ugh. ( )
  hemlokgang | Dec 18, 2015 |
Complex and inspiring, Against The Day provides every novel you might think existed in the American Tradition of the early 1900s with a fair shake and some pages. A crew of boys flys an airship, saving the world from mysterious danger. An anarchist becomes a dynamiting hero, while his children struggle with his legacy. A British soldier saves a young girl, who is maybe more gifted than she seems. The plot weaves between these elements and more, following from the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago to The Great War and beyond. Characters travel in time, and we travel with them, rewinding to live moments again and again. In. This, the reader understands not only the complexity of time, but genre.

Written with Pynchon's typical humor and lyricality, Against The Day becomes a novel obsessed with Time and math, with the beginning of cinema, the Mexican revolution, and any number of other subjects. Spies and secret societies abound, as does paranoia, and anarchism.

The book is simply too much to sum up without these phrases. It sprawls, intimidates, but offers excitement and adventure to those willing to stick it out. Be prepared to reread occasionally, and come to terms with the fact that you cannot remember every character. I have never met a book so full of ideas, a book where a phrase prompts me to be lost in thought roughly once every 10 pages. Let the tidal wave of Against The Day wash over you, and emerge, feeling refreshed and afraid, smarter for the experience. ( )
1 vote Vermilious | Aug 30, 2014 |
"[I]f it doesn’t work with gold, the next step will be lead." ( )
  lawrenh | May 14, 2014 |
Marvelous. Marvelous. Marvelous.

As in, full of marvels. There are so few novels that can re-create in us the feeling we knew as children who loved to read: that sense of awe and mystery that a great narrative could instill, the mind being stretched, the heart opened, time disappearing. Against the Day, in the happy months I’ve spent engrossed in it, did for jaded adult me what those great reading experiences of my childhood did, at a suitably higher level of intellectual difficulty — enough that, just as in childhood, I knew I’d have to re-read, I’d want to re-read. I’d even want to start re-reading right away, to begin the marvelous journey again. Because there would always be more there that I hadn’t seen, or hadn’t seen in the same way, the time before.

It’s no surprise that so many folks have gone on at length trying to distill what reading Against the Day was like, what this vast book is like. I’ll just say that for those who may be leery of Pynchon’s garrulous tricksiness, and the apparent misanthropy which has made many of his characters seem little more than extremely clever cartoons, this book is informed by a generosity of spirit, a clarity of prose, and even a depth of aw-shucks compassion that’s a true revelation, AND it’s no less of a gauntlet for the gray matter for all that. But it is a heluva a lot more fun to read than Gravity’s Rainbow or V. It is a romance in the best, old fashioned sense of that word, being of course a tribute to many forms of romance: from Boys’ Own stories to westerns to spy novels and Wellesian sci-fi.

It will help to love some of the things Pynchon loves, or at least to be willing to be curious about them: abstract mathematics, modern physics, history (and arcane history), anarchism, music, wild sex, duality and non-duality, and storytelling itself. Give up on conventional plotting, a single story arc, anything like that - but you probably knew that already. And you’re never going to get microscopically detailed Jamesian psychological complexity out of him, so just forget that too– you might as well ask the man to sell Tupperware as to write like that. There will even be longueurs, how can there not be in a story this long? The encyclopaedist imagination is endlessly interested in just about everything, most of the rest of us, with our narrower vision and shorter attention spans, not so much.

But those are minor concerns. The point is, more than just about any other macrofiction I can think of, this book can enchant you. If you still love to read as much as you did as a child, but have learned a lot more about the state of the world and humankind since then, just take the journey. Single up all lines. Sail on Against the Day, sail on towards grace.

( )
2 vote CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
If you're reading this, you might want to read the book; if you're sensible, you'll be a bit wary of diving right in, because, as every review is contractually obliged to note, it's a bit long. So here are some books I'm really glad I read before this:

i) The World that Never Was, by Alex Butterworth
ii) Anarchism, by George Woodcock
iii) Hobsbawm's Age of Revolution/Capital/Empire
iv) Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian (American West in the 19th century)
v) Henry James, in general (for the American abroad theme)
vi) various popular science books, particularly about maths.

Here are some books I really wish I'd read:

i) The Struggle for Mastery by AJP Taylor
ii) unpopular, difficult histories of maths
iii) a history of American labor organizations
iv) HG Wells, The Time Machine

If you mix all of that in with previous Pynchon, you get this book. If you've read it all, I bet this thing would be a breeze. Kind of.


I put off reviewing this for a long time, because I've been trying to finish the wikipedia plot summaries. But I can't put it off any longer. Those plot summaries take a *long* time.

A lot of people read this book as a more or less Manichean tract about the evils of the day/light/people who don't believe in conspiracy theories and the good of the night/darkness/people who do. Thankfully, it's much more and much better than that. There are few hard and fast good guys or bad guys: only one or two people fail to undergo some kind of enlightenment, and nobody who does undergo enlightenment becomes undeniably heroic afterward.

The book's structure is surprisingly tight. There's a kind of frame narrative, a pastiche of Boys Own adventure stories; as the novel progresses, the heroes of that story (The Chums of Chance) move from being more or less the unthinking but charming patsies of shadowy higher powers, to being autonomous, married human beings: in other words, they're little boys who grow up, and in so doing become more conscious of their own place in the world.

Within this is the main tale: a family of anarchists is being hunted and then hunting the capitalists in turn. On the book's release, much was made of its sympathy for terrorists, so it's worth noting that only *one* non-anarchist is intentionally killed by an anarchist, and that's in direct revenge for the murder of said anarchist's father. Just to complicate matters, it's unclear that the vengeance-taker is much of an anarchist anyway. On the other hand, and with historical accuracy, the capitalists murder or otherwise do away with dozens of people. The point of the book is not that terrorism is okay, it's that small acts of 'terrorism,' like bomb throwing, differ from large acts of destruction, like war or factory lockouts, in a small but important way: the bomb throwers lack the resources to do anything else. The war-makers and factory owners have all the resources they need, but want to squeeze ever more out of the rest of us.

In good picaresque fashion, a series of tales branch off from these two main tales. Most of them have in common some sort of opposition to quotidian life, which is either shown to be successful as an alternative, or (more often), unsuccessful. Characters come to realize that they're being used by powers beyond their control, and take it upon themselves to change their lives as best they can. Usually this is by travel (therefore, picaresque).

The book shows us two worlds: one that we see every day, and a kind of shadow world set slightly to the side of our own. The shadow world is sometimes good, sometimes not so good; but the moments of good that it holds are very much worth striving for. The trick is to do that without getting co-opted by capitalists or imperialists, which is no easy task at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Here the content matches up with Pynchon's form: any time the shadow world breaks through, for better or worse, the generally realistic narrative is also interrupted by surrealism, fantasy, science-fiction, horror, abstract mathematics, mysticism or philosophy. These small breaks in the novel's realistic fabric are often genuinely confusing, and that's precisely the point: thinking of another world is difficult and confusing. There's no need for conspiracy theories to explain this fact, you only need to recognize that the power and money is held in a very few hands.

Despite the huge difficulties faced by the various characters, the book ends, beautifully, with the Chums of Chance on their airship, "where any wish that can be made is at least addressed, if not always granted. For every wish to come true would mean that in the known Creation, good unsought and uncompensated would have evolved somehow, to become at least more accessible to us," and there's no sign of that. Nontheless, "they fly towards grace." Even within the book's frame, the Chums of Chance are more or less fictional. It's on board fictions like 'Against the Day' that we, too, can fly towards grace, without pretending that we've already got it. ( )
1 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
Thomas Pynchon's new behemoth of a book, "Against the Day," is likely to have readers responding in one of two ways; either they will think it is one of the greatest novels ever written, or they will see it as a vainglorious head trip from an author notorious for being difficult to read. The truth of the matter actually lies somewhere in between. "Against the Day" is probably the most brilliant book most people will never read. The reason it will probably fail to garner much of an audience is that at almost 1,100 pages it is, to put it bluntly, the novel as literary whirlwind, cryptically dense and unrelenting in its demands on the reader.
IN “Against the Day,” his sixth, his funniest and arguably his most accessible novel, Thomas Pynchon doles out plenty of vertigo, just as he has for more than 40 years. But this time his fevered reveries and brilliant streams of words, his fantastical plots and encrypted references, are bound together by a clear message that others can unscramble without mental meltdown.
On the American literary scene – that hodgepodge – a new book by Thomas Pynchon is unarguably a major event, and here he comes again. His sixth novel, “Against the Day,” runs to 1085 pages, but never creeps and assuredly never drags. Though he has a disciple here and there, most notably David Foster Wallace, no novelist has proven more sui generis than Pynchon since his debut with “V.” in 1963.
"Against the Day" -- the phrase seems to allude to the apocalyptic conditional: In the familiar scriptural locution, the day itself was the eventual one of "judgment and perdition of the ungodly men." But let's not make too much of it. There is simply too much going on in this wide-ranging, encyclopedic, nonpareil of a novel to reduce it all to something as small as the apocalypse.
There is a striking moment in Thomas Pynchon’s enormous new novel that threatens to get lost, like many of the striking moments in his novels, in all the other moments: of overly wrought prose, of names so memorable that you can’t remember them, and of quasi-historical accounts of science and politics that the diligent book reviewer and his fact checker would like to substantiate but that are mainly unsubstantiable.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159420120X, Hardcover)

Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.

The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.

As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it's their lives that pursue them. Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they're doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction.

Let the reader decide, let the reader beware. Good luck.

-Thomas Pynchon

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:01 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A tale spanning the years between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the end of World War I features characters who are caught up in such events as the labor troubles of Colorado, the Mexican revolution, and the heyday of silent-movie Hollywood.

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