Gravity's Rainbow, 350-500pp., Matt's Take

A promise or a threat fulfilled — I’m doin’ wider spans, like I said I would last week! So, there! At least we’ve kind of hit the part of the novel where it really carries you along with its flow — it’s harder to put down, and I find myself really enjoying it even more.

One thing Ben said today (as a fellow who’s finished the novel unlike me) that made me think, is that the novel itself seems to be structured like a parabola. The top of the parabola is pretty exclusively Slothrop and, I guess, The Main Story Bits, and the bottom is where it kind of fractures out into many different characters and subplots. Which isn’t to say there aren’t asides and subplots in the center of the novel, but that they tie in to the main narrative much sooner. For example, the book starts with Pirate, and, well, I don’t even know how he fits in at this point anymore. Haven’t seen hide nor hair of him. But then you’ve got, say, the Kirghiz Light, which is beginning to make its significance known, even though that wasn’t introduced too awfully far away from the 500 page marker. Just as an example.

One thing I have to point out, too — the Franz Pökler episode is really amazing. It’s kind of like the second section of Z, in that it’s almost self-contained and moving; I don’t know if Pynchon published any sections of Gravity’s Rainbow before it was published — the copyright page doesn’t indicate such a thing — but that’s one of the pieces that probably could have been…. though, honestly, the surrounding novel gives it so much more depth. The segue alone is astounding. And the ending of the section, with Pökler realizing what he’s helped happen and helped to maintain by his work on the rocket coupled with his realization that his wife is gone (either dead or estranged, it’s left up in the air), it’s just incredibly powerful. A lot of GR is (intentionally) goofy, funny and/or odd, yet that’s an almost Wallacian hunk of emotion. I would normally say “perhaps the saddest part” or some other segue-cliche like that if, well, the ending itself weren’t so damned sad, but a less-sad-than-that-but-still-sad is that Pökler’s intentions were good; his interest in rockets was space exploration, not destruction, but he knew that in order to get folks interested in the former, they’d have to invest in them as instruments for the latter.

Less moving and more disturbing is the realization that Slothrop’s a raging ephebephile. The reference in the very beginning to Slothrop finding the girl in the rubble who asks “Got any gum, chum?” is one I originally mentally filed as a misinterpretation of the text; same with Geli Tripping — she was CERTAINLY a young woman and they were referring to her as a “girl” in the common vernacular… but his tryst with and fantasies of Bianca make it clear. I’m not quite sure if you’re necessarily supposed to have that same realization as I did, or if I’m just a little slow. Still — it’s a little bit disturbing. Slothrop’s kind of a likable fellow, though — perhaps this is more of what I was expecting when I read Lolitaalt, and maybe why I found the book disappointing. After all, Humbert Humbert’s so insufferable, my original reaction was “Huh, an unlikable, unsympathetic pedophile. Whoda thunk.” That, and, well, I love Happinessalt, which, well, DOES have a likable, sympathetic pedophile. But JEEZ talk about a digression here, huh? Still — it’s interesting that Pynchon would give that, ahm, personality quirk to Slothrop. Yet, it seems to work; it’s not JARRING, it’s just creepy. But there’s lots of creepy bits, like Captain Blicero/Major Weismann (which, I know, sounds like a different version of a Paul McCartney song that’s twisted, yet, I bet, somehow, much better…), so I guess we, the reader, is used to it?

If I AM going to pick on one thing that’s a little jarring, it’s the Stereotypically Gay Russian Guard. Luckily, he’s only got a few pages (so far, anyway; I can’t imagine HIM coming back), but it’s not really that funny… but it screams “product of the times!”, so I’m not sure if Pynchon can really necessarily be BLAMED but still, it’s a little… cliche, I guess. I guess he can be blamed for that part. But it just seems a little… ecch. I’d be interested to see a defense of that scene — perhaps it’s actually a parody of that convention and I’m just too dumb to see it. I’m not thinking it is, though.

Ah, well. So far, what, 2 pages that are kinda blegh out of 500? I’d like to have a ratio like that.