The first 50 pages of Gravity’s Rainbow — Matt’s Take

Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, with cover ar...
Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, with cover art by Frank Miller, released October 31, 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the first actual entry in the Gravity’s Rainbow discussion thing! If you’d like to read along, this is the edition that we’re reading — so if you’re reading another edition, the pagination might be slightly different. (As a guide, this one is 776 pages.) As of right now, the only two people who will be posting articles about the book will be me and Ben, although other people are welcome — just let me know — or, if you’d rather just discuss in the comments, that’s fine as well! I believe both Ben and I are set-up to be emailed when anyone leaves a comment, so we will see things and hopefully respond!

This’ll probably turn out where Ben’ll probably be a bit more academic, in-depth on the novel, since not only is he much farther in it than I am, he’s also going for his Ph.D in English; me, I’m just a guy who works in radio and reads too dang much. So, while he’s all talking about the use of synecdoche in Pynchon’s work and what it means for literature on the whole, I’ll be talking about how the Banana Breakfast sounds real good.

OK — enough setup, let’s get into the book!


One of the things I always find kind of odd/interesting about editions of Great Novels ™ is that they pretty much always assume you know what it’s about. I’m not sure about editions of Gravity’s Rainbow from when it was new — a long time ago I had a mass-market paperback sized edition that was one of the early printings, long gone, unfortunately — but this edition only has images on the covers. Themed images, of course, but no “This is the story of…” type of thing on there.

The reason I bring this up is because when I started, I didn’t really know much of anything about the story. I knew it had to do with rockets, and rockets as sexuality (or something like that), but not much else. I actually thought it took place in or around the then-present day of the 1960s, at Yoyodyne Industries (from other Pynchon novels), where they were working on making a new type of rocket. So, you know, I was kind of taken aback when I read the first few pages, which detail Pirate being evacuated in an WWII-era UK city, and waking up in his London flat, still in WWII. After reading the first few pages, I bounced to the Wikipedia page and read the first paragraph or so just to get my bearings so I at least was in the right mindset.

Admittedly, I’m not sure if one CAN be in the right mindset for a book with, in the first 15 pages, a giant adenoid in danger of devouring London.

Which is one of the things I’ve been enjoying most about this novel — while it’s dense, it’s also funny — lots of jokes, some big, some throwaway (Pirate’s batman is named Corporal Wayne). But a very intelligent sort of humor, and often a relatively dark one, where it’s laugh or be terrified.

So, anyway, the Adenoid. It turns out Pirate’s talent is the ability to take over other people’s fantasies and deal with them so said other folks can focus on the war. The adenoid is part of the fantasy of an English Lord, focusing on the Balkans in the late ’30s, part of the lead up to WWI; Pirate’s duty is to converse with the Adenoid, to perhaps convince it to retreat, via a shared language of sinusoidal snuffling. While it worked, and the Lord was able to focus at the task at hand, saving the day, but drowning in a bathtub of tapioca.

Honestly, at this point, I’m not quite sure if this has much to do with anything, but it is a hell of a story.

It turns out, though, Pirate’s not the main character of the novel — even though it looks like he will be for the first 20 or so pages. I’d probably have to say it’s Tyrone Slothrop (who can predict the targets of incoming V-2 rockets a few days before by his sexual conquests), or perhaps Roger Mexico (a statistician who discovers that Slothrop’s sexual congresses/the rocket blasts form a perfect Poisson distribution). But there’s a lot of characters, and it’s somewhat hard to tell at this point who is important and who is not, and so it seems best to assume they all are.

Roger’s working with the Allies on a allied-version of Hitler’s use of mysticism to gain an edge in the war effort; there’s a reference to Blicero I missed the first time in the scene where Roger and Jessica Swanlake are introduced. Of course, first time I read it, I didn’t know who Blicero was yet (and, dang, creeeeepy), but still. But the White Visitation seems odd, a place where math, science and pseudoscience all comingle and try to help each other out, even while not really understanding the other disciplines. Much like Roger Pointsman, whom Roger sometimes helps kidnap dogs for the formers Pavlovian experiments based on his mentor’s work…. but we haven’t hit that part yet.

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