Against the Day

ISBN: 159420120X
ISBN 13: 9781594201202
By: Thomas Pynchon

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About this book

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 PynchonAbout the Author:Thomas Pynchon is the author of V., The Crying of Lot 49, Gravity's Rainbow, Slow Learner, a collection of short stories, Vineland and, most recently, Mason and Dixon. He received the National Book Award for Gravity's Rainbow in 1974.

Reader's Thoughts

ΑνναΦ

Ho faticato un poco ad entrate dentro questo libro, il mio primo Pynchon, non riuscivo a capire dove volesse condurmi questo aerovolante dal nome sibillino, Inconvenience. Sono salita, mi sono fatta trasportare e man mano ho capito che contava il viaggio in sé, farsi condurre in questo giro verso varie latitudini, varie pieghe del tempo oltre che dello spazio, dal Far West alla Manciuria, Venezia o Londra o Yale. Attraverso i molti luoghi, i moltissimi personaggi, si delinea poco a poco l'idea portante attorno a cui tutto ruota, personaggi luoghi ed epoche: il mondo come lo conosciamo sta correndo verso l'apocalisse, sia essa nucleare o sociale o ecologica o un'apocalisse immaginaria venuta da un'immaginata arma quaternionica proveniente dal futuro, l'umanità sta correndo verso il baratro. Pynchon ci dice questo senso di fine mondo – che è collettivo e individuale, i suoi personaggi sono tutti in fuga da qualcuno o da qualcosa, fosse anche soltanto nel tentativo di domare l'irrequietezza ansiosa altresì chiamata vita – con fare scherzoso da film Western o da fumetto, o con tono intenso da Pulp Fiction, ma lo ripete senza sosta. In quest'apocalisse annunciata, a cui nessuno può sfuggire, non c'è tuttavia disperazione né sterile annichilimento, ma direi piuttosto la volontà di viverle contro, magari opponendole l'utopia di un'ideale anarchico, romantico, come un piccolo Davide che abbatta a suon di bombe il mostro inenarrabile che è l'idea stessa del Capitalismo già al suo sorgere.(cfr discorso del Capitalista malvagio per eccellenza Scardsale Vibe, pag. 1040-41).Ed è contro il capitalismo disumano e ingiusto che i protagonisti principali – i bombaroli anarchici che compongono la famiglia Traverse - contro le ingiustizie e le gabbie del giorno che tutti i personaggi lottano.Un libro utopico nella sua speranza di una possibile forma di umana giustizia, scanzonato, romantico a suo modo, anarchico e anticapitalistico, divertentissimo e istrionico a un tempo, un libro che contiene molti libri (spy story, racconto di viaggio, di fantascienza e molto altro). Parlando di quaternioni e matematici pazzi, di sciamani ute e otzovisti, della teoria spettrale di Hilbert o di come si salva una maionese impazzita, Pynchon ci parla del nostro presente e futuro, assurdo, ingiusto, irredimibile. Senza salvezza dunque? Può darsi sì, ma non per questo da non percorrere in allegria, consapevolezza e in balìa di una vitalissima, rigenerante utopia, che regali almeno l'illusione di perseguire un poco di umana giustizia.E, lettore, non ti dirò che in queste 1127 pagine non ce ne sia nessuna che non mi abbia un filo annoiata o annichilita o..., ma subito dopo il picco si innalzava come un grafico di Piazza Affari dalla sera alla mattina, e quindi per media e per istinto non posso non insignirlo di cinque stelle sfolgoranti. Enjoy!

Rob

(Update, 3/23/13: finally plodded my way to the end of this thing. Review still stands.)First things first: I haven't finished Against The Day yet. I'm on page 752, which is more than 300 pages from the end. But 752 of this book's pages, with their tiny print and their relatively homogeneous content, are enough to solidify one's judgment several times over. It's possible that the ending will cause me to reconsider some of what I'm about to say, but given what I've seen so far, I doubt it.I want to like Pynchon. Lots of people I respect are very fond of him (see e.g. this glowing review by Adam Roberts), and he's often mentioned in connection with writers I like (Wallace, Barth, Nabokov, postmodern fiction in general). He certainly seems lovable. His books are bursting with cool esoteric facts and wacky character names. He exudes a boisterous love for material existence in all its particularity. He's obsessed with ukuleles. What a character, right?I dunno. Somehow he's never worked for me. I read The Crying of Lot 49 and, while it didn't strike me as actively bad, it failed to excite any visible activity on my E-Meter. Totally neutral. If there was a point, I missed it. Then I tried Gravity's Rainbow, had a negative visceral response and put it down (with some force) on page 120. But I was determined to finish one of these big Pynchon books in my lifetime, and I had heard that ATD was gentler and more fun than GR, so I said what the hell.200 pages in, I was hopeful. The book seemed just plain good, charming, lyrical, plotty. I thought I was finally on Pynchon's wavelength. 752 pages in, I can report that I was wrong: I'm still as mystified as ever.A saner review would end there. I just don't get Pynchon, and if I try to explain what's "wrong" with him I'll simply annoy people and/or make a fool of myself. Well, here goes.It's the End of the World As We Know ItThe word "day" in ATD's title has at least two meanings: it refers to the time when the sun is up and everything's illuminated, and also to the day in the sense of "the present day." As early as that title and the epigraph -- "it's always night, or we wouldn't need light" -- ATD sets up the core of its thematic edifice. That core is an opposition between "the day" and "the night." "The day" is daytime clarity, logic, consolidation, lack of ambiguity, "official" versions of history, electricity, modernity. It is aligned with the version of America that is quickly being established at the time at which the novel is set -- the turn of the twentieth century -- an America with a relatively homogeneous culture, relatively powerful institutions (private and public), an America that communicates at the speed of electric current and can form nationwide consensuses with relatively little latency."The night" is nighttime haziness, pre-modernity, subjectivity, secret histories, esoteric knowledge, fiction, mad hopes, counterfactuals of all sorts, the subjunctive. The central conceit of ATD is that the day's victory -- the victory of modernity and its official, real-world history -- was not inevitable, and that at the turn of the 20th century the day contended with a vast range of competing possible worlds. On the most mundane level, Pynchon is suggesting that other social arrangements (anarchy rather than consolidation of power) and other scientific ideas (quaternions rather than vectors) fought for precedence with the ones we actually got. But with characteristic zeal for the blurring of the metaphoric bridge, Pynchon also explores wilder interpretations of the phrase "possible worlds." At times the counterfactuals become literal alternate universes in the science fictional sense. Sometimes they are doppelgangers or alternate selves coexisting in one universe, which have some vague connection to the imaginary numbers. Sometimes the counterfactuals are not alternate histories but actual fictions, as when we see the Chums of Chance, the heroes of a 1890s-era boy's adventure serial (Pynchon's invention), acquire real existence in the same world in which the books they star in are published.How much of this is "true"? How much of it is insightful? Surely the modern world we actually got was not quite inevitable. But whether this has any interesting connection to the relationship between written fiction and reality, much less to the relation between imaginary and real numbers, is questionable. It probably doesn't matter -- it seems best to view ATD as an exuberant fantasy, an attempt to envision a version of the pre-WWI era in which nocturnal/counterfactual weirdos of every conceivable kind, from anarchists to time travelers, mount a motley, heroic last stand against the day. That, in the abstract, sounds promising. The problems are all in the details.We Danced Like People in the Hyper-Tight Light of Fried Chicken CommercialsATD's world is made out of the raw material of genre cliche. The characters are boy adventurers, western gunslingers, evil plutocrats, globetrotting spies, bewitching women from the Orient. Reviewers infinitely more well-read than I have charted the way that Pynchon (yet more well-read) derives almost every one of his characters and episodes from the conventions of one 1900-era popular genre or another. The book revels in its own gleeful corniness, or rather the juxtaposition of that corniness with torrents of accurate historical detail and writing that's way beyond anything in the source material. It's the kind of thing I'd want to call "campy" if Sontag hadn't declared that you can't be campy on purpose.Pynchon, evidently, is interested in combining artifice with realism and the serious with the silly. That's something I love too, and a lot of the appeal of this sort of book for me is in the way implausible or impossible things can be made to feel real through the magic act that is good writing. Pynchon's version of this effect, though, is quite different from (say) the version I loved in Wallace's Infinite Jest. Wallace creates a political and social situation that's absurd and cartoonish, but when he zooms in on any of the people living in that situation, they feel real. From afar, the world of Infinite Jest looks like a maniacal child's play set, but if you peer inside the minds of any of the action figures you find fully functional minds with hopes and neuroses, reflecting and deliberating in hyper-realistic detail. Pynchon, by contrast, never delves for more than a fleeting moment into any given character's mind. References to mental states crop up, but usually in the service of getting someone from one place to another, or of depicting the long-time evolution of a relationship or the like -- a textual version of the montage. Moment-to-moment consciousness, not yet edited into time-lapse summaries, is not among his subjects.His version of the artifice/realism two-step is a more third-person, solipsistic one. Put simply, he takes silly things and takes them seriously, or vice versa. This is fundamentally different from making silly characters real by depicting their consciousness. It's a gesture of the writer's own consciousness, a change in writerly stance that need not accompany any shift in the object of that stance. Pynchon's gambit is that his corny subject matter can be elevated by modulations of his own way of speaking about it, by calculated bursts of lyrical, quintessential "good writing."So, for instance, when we first meet the Chums of Chance (pedant repellant: technically, the five-boy crew of the skyship Inconvenience, one unit of the larger Chums of Chance organization), the writing sounds like this:"Oh, boy!" cried Darby Suckling, as he leaned over the lifelines to watch the national heartland deeply swung in a whirling blur of green far below, his tow-colored locks streaming in the wind past the gondola like a banner to leeward. (Darby, as my faithful readers will remember, was the "baby" of the crew, and served as both factotum and mascotte, singing as well the difficult treble parts whenever these adolescent aeronauts found it impossible to contain song of some kind.) "I can't hardly wait!" he exclaimed. (1-2)But the pastiche of boy's adventure stories doesn't follow the Chums everywhere, and sometimes we read things like this:For somehow, the earlier, the great, light had departed, the certitude become broken as ground-dwellers' promises -- time regained its opacity, and one day the boys, translated here to Belgium, as if by evil agency, had begun to lapse earthward through a smell of coal smoke and flowers out of season, toward a beleaguered coast ambiguous as to the disposition of land and sea, down into seaside shadows stretching into the growing dark, shadows that could not always be correlated with actual standing architecture, folding and pleating ever inwardly upon themselves, an entire mapful of unlighted outer neighborhoods sprawled among the dunes and small villages. . . . (551)Neither of these passages blends with character psychology in the way good third-person prose often does. Is the quaint, awkward style of the first quote reflective of how the Chums think? Is the shadowy dread in the second quote the Chums' own, or just the narrator's? We might wonder if the changing style reflects the Chums' growing maturity. But there is no such trajectory in the Chums' own behavior, only in the writing. The tone and style of the second quote has essentially nothing to do with the human subject matter -- it is just Pynchon choosing to relate the experiences of inane characters in a high-flown style, because he can. (The Chums are an extreme case, but most of this carries over to the other major characters.)Just as Pynchon is uninterested in conventional characterization, he is also uninterested in plot. It feels odd to call ATD a plotless novel, since it is a novel in which a great deal happens. These events, however, are not connected by anything resembling cause and effect. Plot devices enter the story, stick around for a scene or two, and then disappear. Different strands of the plot do not interact with one another even when they would be expected to, as though they are taking place in different universes (in some cases, this may literally be true). In one early chapter, the Chums transport to New York City some sort of alien (?) embryo which has been retrieved from the north pole, and it proceeds to wreak havoc in a sort of a pre-image of 9/11. The whole thing is a great little episode of Lovecraftian sci-fi, quite successful on its own, and I was excited to see where Pynchon would take it. The answer, of course, is that he doesn't take it anywhere. The devastation of New York never comes up again. There is probably some multiversal explanation for this, but it is nonetheless a perfectly typical example of the book's acausality.What the book eventually begins to feel like, dispiritingly enough, is a television series. It's televisual in its abundance of period-authentic visual detail ("eye-catching sets") and its paucity of mental detail, its remixing of existing genres (imagine the pitch: "it's a steampunk revenge western sci-fi period piece!"), its seemingly endless and aimless succession of amusing episodes with no lasting consequences, its preference for characterization by means of snappy dialogue. When the plot is allowed to move, it moves in ways that feel like internal compromises on the part of a writing staff. For instance, one chapter culminates in the death of a semi-major villain, but this villain is merely the lesser member of a villainous pair, with little significance of his own, and so the "writer" of that "episode" can happily top off his story with an apparently important plot point without altering the overall situation in any way that might impair the freedom of other staff members to explore the setting in their own ways. Things change, but nothing really changes; you can tune in next week, even if you've missed an episode or two, and be confident that you'll encounter the same kind of adventure you're used to. Pynchon distorts conventional storytelling for artistic purposes, but he ends up in the same place as artistically unambitious TV shows. (What would Wallace say?)Thomas Pynchon vs. The WorldWhere are the day and the night in all of this? Pynchon's fondness for everything he associates with the night (everything he pits against the day) often frames itself as a fondness for human freedom. Pynchon is for the right to go crazy, to disobey conventional canons of taste and decency, to refuse to do what The Man -- or the plot -- tells you to do. Over time, though, Pynchon's enforced entropy begins to feel more oppressive than any strong plot ever could. Behind the string-pulling mastermind villain Scarsdale Vibe is Pynchon himself, pulling strings to make sure nothing ever connects. True freedom, after all, depends on a reliable underlying physics, a logic of cause-and-effect. I could stop writing this review right now and walk outside my apartment -- that's a way in which I am free. I would feel much less free if I, say, did not feel (mostly) sure that in doing so I would not step into an alternate universe (something that actually happens to one ATD character). I am free to choose my actions, but implicit in the notion of "actions" is some sense of consequence; if I don't know how the world will respond, I have no basis on which to choose how to act, and might as well not be free at all. Pynchon's characters seem superficially free -- and utilize that freedom in all the traditional boozy, horny, countercultural ways -- but these dancers in the dark face a world which is less meaningful, less connected, than even our own vale of tears.So the night and the day are strangely mixed in Pynchon's world. Nocturnal chaos reaches, in its statistical limit, a homogeneity indistinguishable from the results of authoritarian, diurnal control. People straight from the light of a flickering television screen in the 21st century flit about among glittering reflective surfaces, outer lives without inner lives. This is freedom? This is the carnival, the night? Is Pynchon trying to tell me that in the end the day and the night are one in the same? But I can simply pick up another, better book and verify that this is not the case: it is easy to find characters both more free and more constrained. Freedom that breaks down this way is not the genuine article.What Pynchon needs sorely in this book is a foil. A staunch representative of the day, an advocate of traditional fiction and the conventional view of modern history. Someone to tell him, when he strays: dammit, Tom, you're getting into pure stoner logic here, there really isn't any connection between historical counterfactuals and imaginary numbers except as a very facile metaphor. This book is lacking in the heat and light that results from genuine conflict. It is drowning in pure gooey Pynchonianness, so suffused with Pynchon's fixation on everything alternative that the mainstream never gets to make its case. Show me the face of coherence, if only so you can reject it. If Pynchon wants to escape into the bland infinity of endless alternatives, I would at least like to see what he is running from.

Marcus Mennes

At 1085 pages, accommodating hundreds of characters, locales, sub-plots, digressions, etc., "Against The Day" isn't exactly summer beach reading. I bought my copy the day it was released (Nov. 21, 2006) and started reading that day. I'm currently (May 23, 2007) on page 892. This pace doesn't reflect a lack of desire, or even time, but rather a cautious appreciation of this book. I figure writers gamble and devote years of their lives preparing a book, while the reader invests mere hours, or days digesting it. Given that Pynchon just turned seventy, and given the ten (or more) year spans between his novels, this could well be his last...so I'm milking it.Pynchon has always been given the rap of being "difficult." True, you'll want to keep a dictionary close at hand, and those who desire a linear plot with fully developed themes and characters will certainly be disappointed by this novel (as goes for any of his other works), yet for the persistent few, his writing is able to elicit a kind of "unhealthy mental excitement."In a sense, you need to learn how to read Pynchon, and really, the only way to read him is to surrender to his onslaught. It requires a spirit closely related to John Keats' concept of negative capability: "that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason..." In other words, the ability to let go, and read for sensation rather than full comprehension. Once you get into Pynchon's rhythm, style, and are able to crack his codes, there is, on nearly every page a kind of "aha!" moment. He lays little tripwires in the prose, so that upon careful reading, or re-reading, the running jokes and poetic asides have a renewed, and lasting vitality. Whether it is a turn of phrase, a strange metaphor, or a moment of comedic timing that produces a l.o.l. moment of absurdity, I am continually forced to put down the book, and silently marvel at this man's capabilites as a writer. He is a mad genius, a luminary, and I would argue, one of our national treasures.

Jim

Against the Day is a book of terrorists. Bomb huckers, outlaws and anarchists lurk everywhere and—surprise, surprise—nearly all of them are likable. Against the Day is like a Louis L’Amour novel in reverse but instead of the saga of the Sackett family moving westward, endlessly crossing the frontier, Pynchon’s Traverse’s travel from West to East, hurling themselves against the tide of history and humanity and into the teeth of American enterprise during the time when her fortunes were being made. These are not basement anarchists building bombs with English dynamite but mavericks employing the very tools used to extract wealth from countless mines with little or no thought to the human cost. Yet in recent reviews by Kirsch and Kakutani, we’re led to believe that the Traverse family’s relationship to violence makes them morally inferior, as if the gears of Capitalism weren’t leaving a trail of corpses in its wake, as if violence was an instrument to be used only as a last resort, as if bombs don’t make sense, as if life wasn’t cheap and getting cheaper by the minute. If most novels are like nature narratives on the Discovery channel, Pynchon’s are like long shots of ants scurrying about in an ant farm; at first their antics seem utterly random, but the more one watches, the deeper the suspicion that the participants in the drama are communicating with one another in meaningful ways. To put it another way, the organizing principle of the modern novel is the family; Pynchon is interested in systems. Pynchon's novels have been dizzyingly dazzling from the get-go. His first novel V. has all the earmarks of his mature work. His early stories, his self-proclaimed juvenilia, were celebrated for his astonishing maturity to the same degree that his most recent work is being castigated for its outrageous silliness. Embedded in Kirsch’s and Kakutani’s criticisms are their disappointment at Pynchon’s refusal to come around to the fluorescent side of the moon and commit to hyper-realism; Pynchon cultivates such extreme fandom because his readers understand that they have to come him. The Chums of Chance are simultaneously characters within the novel and characters in a series of boy’s adventure books called The Chums of Chance (the first of literally dozens of doubles at work in the novel). The Chums fly around onboard airships filled with an assortment of impossible gadgetry. But as the years wear on and the Chums become salty old vets in their own right they come to question where their orders are coming from, and why they should carry them out the way they’ve always carried them out when their work seems not to make a bit of difference on the ball of confusion below. Like the Flying Dutchman, they become the stuff of storybook fantasy while the world erupts in total war. Perhaps in some way Kirsch and Kakutani see their own situation here: assigned a tiresome chore, they carry it out without relish or zeal because the results fail to register an impact on the landscape. Critics: abandon ship; Pynchon fans: full speed ahead. (Excerpted from a review that appeared in November 2006 at The Elegant Variation:[http://marksarvas.blogs.com/elegvar/2...])

tim

Against the Day, for me, is pure reading bliss. Pynchon effortlessly conjures up magic and grace, stretching them through a full spectrum of absurdly strange situations. His characters often lack depth, but he more than makes up for that in many other ways, not least of all with the shear beauty of his prose.Of the thousand-and-one topics within this book, my favorite themes dwell on light, time, parallel universes, and dimensional transcendence. Anarchy may be the most prevalent thread found throughout, but an equally prominent theme, if only slightly less obvious, is the search for Shambhala—both the mythological kingdom said to be hidden somewhere in Inner Asia, as well as the invisible spiritual equivalent located within the Self. There are stories, like maps that agree...too consistent among too many languages and histories to be only wishful thinking…. It is always a hidden place, the way into it is not obvious, the geography is as much spiritual as physical. If you should happen upon it, your strongest certainty is not that you have discovered it but returned to it. In a single great episode of light, you remember everything.Regarding light, one character sums up Pynchon’s curiosity with it when he says: I want to reach inside light and find its heart, touch its soul, take some in my hands whatever it turns out to be, and bring it back. One distinctly memorable scene involves an encounter with a tree in Mexico full of giant luminous beetles all flashing on and off together in unison. While watching these magnificent creatures, the observer somehow realizes (I won’t pretend I can convey the same magic Pynchon does, so you will just have to take this at face value) one of the illuminated beetles is his soul, and that the other beetles of light on the tree are the souls of everyone he has ever known. All together these synchronized strobing souls make up one complete radiant soul in the same way that light is indivisible. Light is living tissue. As the brain is the outward and visible expression of the Mind.Pynchon has even more fun exploring the nature of time. For what mission have I here, in this perilous segment of space-time, if not somehow to transcend it? Most of the book takes place in the years leading up to WWI. Using the knowledge of the day, Pynchon bombards the reader in mathematical theories on vectors and quaternions in an attempt to push the boundaries of three-dimensional space. All this leads up to his attacks on the so-called ‘forth dimension.’ Even wondering if we can look at the ‘forth dimension’ as if it were time, when it is really something of its own, and ‘Time’ is only our best imperfect approximation.When dissecting and reassembling time, Pynchon seems to place a keen interest in manipulating it for the reader’s benefit and joy. Pynchon is something of a mystic and trickster. Whatever the number of n dimensions it inhabited, an observer would need one extra, n + 1, to see and connect the end points to make a single resultant. Pynchon must somehow reside in, or frequently visit an extra dimension from the norm. How else is he able to bring back to consensus reality seemingly endless accounts from other realms, parallel universes, and multiple dimensions, all while transporting the reader along with him into those very same worlds?

Michael

The imaginative density of this book is truly a marvel. Every page, every chapter, every sentence is filled with humor, humanity, and wacky literary, historical and philosophical ideas. Like all of Pynchon's fiction, one must simply allow the author's immense creativity to take you wherever he feel like, and in this book it is an awful lot of places. Set in the years before World War I, Against the Day is, as near as I can tell, Pynchon's homage to the 19th century dime novel - featuring all manner of popular genre tales from the Deadwood Dick westerns, Pinkerton detective stories of anarchists dynamiters, Ivy League college stories, tales of bold inventors and scientist, Horatio Alger rags to riches tales, and the Chums of Chance - the daring balloonists off on global adventures. This book is not for everyone, especially those who like linearity, focus and realism in their historical fiction. So too should the Pynchon neophyte probably start elsewhere. So, come to think of it, who the hell am I writing this for anyways? If you are down with the TP then you already have a copy and are probably stuck at page 700. If you arent a fan then you'll just be shaking your head. Ah, yet another moment of realization that I am a hopeless dork - its a good thing this book is so funny.

Ned

I've taken to typing up large pieces of this book and posting them on random places on the internet. All are duly quoted and attributed, because credit should be given where it is due, as this story deserves a distribution farther, wider and stranger than more than all but just a few have attained. It deserves imaginary distribution, it needs to be read by the people, yes and yes, as well thru lenses kept hidden by governemnts and secret societies the world over. It needs to be read by people of all times and places. It needs to be praised and misrepresented, taught in schools and left by the bulletin board in bus terminals, kept by lighters outside of airport terminals and substituted for Gideon's Bibles in all the Comfort Inn's across Northern America.If you're not happy with the news these days, read this instead.If you want a story that paralells your life and yet still twists away from the present, just in time, to remind that it is good now and then to throw away the rulebook, then this might be the book to read.Have you ever thought two superficially unrelated occurences were actually deeply connected in some otherwise undocumented way? You think of someone and they call, you have a feeling of dread or sadness and the news reports it, you miss an appointment somewhere and it turns out it was better you weren't there at all . . . these kinds of things happen to characters in this book with such ease, we are left to wonder why everyone doesn't dwell on these things all the time. But then the commercial ends, or the phone rings, the belly rumbles, the sirens go off. We nod and lose our way.the wiki for this is funny, too

Paul Jensen

It took me 11 months to read this epic novel. It's the most demanding book I've ever read. It even inspired a vacation (pilgrimage?) to Colorado & the San Juan mountains. "Against the Day" is exhausting, frustrating, confusing - but I couldn't get it out of my head. Amazing. I'll never forget the experience of reading this book.

Chloe

I've never really felt comfortable writing a review of a Pynchon book. From the short and relatively accessible Crying of Lot 49 to the byzantine and complex Gravity's Rainbow, he's always left me standing agape, grasping for the right words to express just what it was that I had experienced, yet knowing that whatever choice I eventually make I will only be able to express the tiniest amount of what I had just been through. Because, if you're patient enough and not too thrown off by what seem like insufferably long asides with no contextual relation to anything that has come before in the book, Pynchon will take you on a journey to the farthest reaches of your imagination. From stitching together materials from a wide and eclectic group of influences, he will attempt to gain entry into the fabled halls of imagination itself, a literary paradise in which all is simultaneously effortlessly possible and maddeningly difficult. Whether he succeeds is a matter for great debate, but for me it's always the journey that makes it worthwhile.In Against the Day, Pynchon chooses one of the most interesting eras in modern history, a time in which the old world was making way for the new in drastic violent upheavals in nearly every realm of life. Beginning with the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893 and meandering along through time until just after the end of the Great War, Pynchon paints a surreal portrait of a world on the cusp of multiple revolutions. From the political struggles of the time- Colorado miners to unionize for better working conditions against the mine owners and their Pinkerton thugs, the blooming revolutions in Mexico and Russia, and the anarchists everywhere in between struggling to advance the freedom of all humanity to the scientific struggles and breakthroughs of the era- Nikola Tesla struggling to gain funding from capitalists to develop ways to transmit electricity wirelessly, the endless debates between rival scientists as to whether the gaps between the stars are filled with aether or nothingness, and all of the quaternion and vectorist mathematics that can explain it. Not to mention hydrogen-fueled airships, expeditions to the North Pole and into the center of the Earth, treatises on the unique nature of Venetian light, and enough bdsm power games to make your hedonist cousin blush, I'm not kidding when I say that this book really has it all.Supported by a rotating cast of hundreds, the story primarily follows the fortunes and trials of the Traverse family as they attempt to get revenge for the assassination of their dynamite-chucking anarchist father. There's Frank, the staid and reliable middle son who uses his schooling at the Colorado Schools of Mines and his family's penchant for dynamite to attempt to get revenge on the two men who murdered his father, an odyssey that sees him rambling back and forth across the US-Mexico border more times than a character in a Cormac McCarthy book. There's Reef, the eldest son whose quest for revenge gets derailed along the way when he finds that it is far easier to use his skills as a cardsharp to defraud decadent aristocrats in Europe. There's Kit, plucked from his family's poverty and sent to private schools in the East by a powerful industrialist who may or may not have been the man who gave the order to have his father killed and who becomes a pawn in a massive game of intrigue between the forces of repression and freedom. Then there's their wayward sister Lake, so filled with self-loathing that she runs away with one of her father's assassins to a life of monotony and beatings.All of these events occur within the pages of Against the Day but it doesn't really say anything with regard to what the book is actually about. Truthfully, after reading almost 1100 pages, I'm not entirely sure. It would be a bit of a cop-out to say that this book is about the search for paradise, both literal and metaphoric. Sure, there's a lot of that in here- the quest for Shambhala, the search for inner peace, the idealism of the anarchists- but what stands out more to me is Pynchon's playing with and breaking down duality. The vectorists and quaternions eternally quarreling, the breaking down of the gender binary that goes on between Yashmeen and Cyprian, the feud between the Traverses and the Vibes, the permeable boundary between the two worlds that is viewable only from within the epicenter of a large explosion or by peering through a piece of Icelandic spar. Not to mention the endless allusions to light and dark and how they're not really all that different, a listing of which would create a book nearly as large as the source material.While the story does tend to feel a but unwieldy around page 600 and I found myself wondering on more than one occasion whether Pynchon had even the slightest clue as to where he was going with the tale, in the end I found myself just enjoying the ride. While a bit lengthier than his opus, Gravity's Rainbow, I found the writing to be vastly more accessible and didn't find myself reading and rereading a page half as often as I did with GR. I think this probably has more to do with being more familiar with Pynchon's rather unique way of spinning out a tale than with a change in his style, but it leaves me wanting to return to Gravity's Rainbow for a reread to see what new discoveries I can find within those pages. If you should find yourself stranded on a desert island, or locked away in prison for a length of time, you could do a lot worse to occupy your mind than reading Against the Day.

Emily

Reading this book wasn't quite the experience of slugging through 'Finnegan's Wake,' but it was up there. I've been a Thomas Pynchon fan since reading 'the crying of lot 49' as an undergrad and then working my way through everything else I could get my hands on. I haven't read him in awhile, and picked this up because it featured math, time travel, gambling and explosives. I am so sad that I didn't love it. The book falls short in three big ways. First, there are so many characters and they are so thinly drawn, it was impossible to identify or care for any of them. I started to care about Dally, but then didn't see her for 300 pages more. One of the appeals of a big book is getting attached to the characters and living with them, and here I just watched the parade go by. Secondly, the narrative lacks a clear structure to push the reader forward and support the madcap coincidences and zany adventures along the way. Pynchon has always mastered muddying the waters and then miraculously making the complex seem clear and connected in a way that is beautifully simple. Without structure or discipline, the book rambles willy-nilly. When at page 1045 he introduces yet another new story line and suddenly parodies a Carver-esque gumshoe, I lost patience.Finally, the math / science in this book is one of the biggest themes, and a very weak one. Even if the math deviates a bit from real world math, there should be logic and rules. It's math, after all. 'Cryptonomicon' is a great example of that. But the math here is half-baked; Pynchon never really pans out what vectorism is, how it works, why it is opposed to the quaternionists. This book might be a testament to the lack of true editors in the publishing industry today. I can't help thinking there is a great book somewhere in this mess, but Pynchon needs a disciplined editor to help carve it out.

Adam

Pynchon at his most accessible yet lengthy(so long I kept thinking I was being reminded of another novel and realizing it was an earlier section). A million intersecting ideas, characters, and plots wrapped in ribald humor and paranoid speculation, reading sometimes like H.G. Wells meets Cormac McCarthy tied all together with a flair of Dante, Conrad, and Borges. One of Pynchon's best, up there with M&D, G.R. and V.(all initials...I win). Pynchon parodies and pastiches L.A. noir, gothic western, steampunkery of Pullman,Mieville, and Moorcock, picareques, and an absurd spy story. Pynchon using all the tropes and wonders of pulp,science fiction, and fantasy to kaleidescope all our nightmares and hopes in a monolithic gnostic vision. Is it hell's history from now on?

Steve

Against the Day is unlike any other book I have ever read, and one that defies review. Thomas Pynchon’s latest epic tips the scales, packed with 1,086 pages of wonderful characters, marvels, and a tapestry of themes. Ostensibly a novel of revenge, AtD is also (among many other things) an extended rumination on various kinds of light, from the mundane to the esoteric. As the title implies, this is no glorification of spiritual Illuminism so much as a cautionary tale about excesses of light set against the consolations of night. Taking place in the years prior to World War I, depicted as a sort of historical tipping point here, AtD explores many fascinating themes: Orphism, anarchism, espionage, the elusive nature of freedom, Utopian dreams, Shambala, secret societies, Tarahumara shamanism, peyote visions, doppelgangers, sexual escapades, emergent plutocracy, time travel, the 4th dimension, Icelandic spar, intelligent dogs, Gnostic inversions, Tarot trumps, super-weapons, Lovecraftian monstrosity, Bogomils, hollow Earth theories, Nicolai Tesla, Central Asia, the set of all sets that have themselves as a member, rembetica, fezzes, ukeleles… The novel begins with the Chicago Exposition of 1893, and some of the best and funniest writing is devoted to this event. Here we first become aware that although this is a book that begins more than a century ago, it sheds a lot of light on our contemporary world and its problems. Much of Against the Day follows the lives of the Traverse family and their acquaintances. Webb Traverse, the patriarch, is an anarchist dynamiter who is done in by hired guns working for the mining company, the owner of which, Scarsdale Vibe, is the novel’s designated vile plutocrat. The task of vengeance falls to Traverse’s three sons, Kit, Reef and Frank. Traverse’s daughter, Lake, marries Deuce Kindred, the man who shot her pa. This is an incredibly sprawling and tempestuous read. Erudite passages collide with goofy gags, spontaneous musical numbers and puns. Woven throughout the pages is a hilarious parody of juvenile adventure novels and pulps featuring a zeppelin crew of boy adventurers, the Chums of Chance, inspired by the likes of Tom Swift and Doc Savage. Theosophy is also lampooned as T.W.I.T., the True Worshippers of the Ineffable Tetractys. Then there are the Visitors, who come from the future or possibly another dimension. “They have been crossing here, crossing over, between the worlds, for generations. Our ancestors knew them. Looking back over a thousand years, here is a time when their trespassings onto our shores at last converge, as in a vanishing-point, with those of the first Norse visitors.”I will admit to my share of bafflement at much of the math, and confusion generated by a multitude of characters that pop in and out of the narrative like prairie dogs. In the beginning, I leaned heavily on the in-progress Pynchon wiki to help decode obscure historical references, foreign phrases and greater context. But in the last few hundred pages, I surrendered to the flow which carried me hither and yon beyond my wildest expectations. One of the interesting things about finishing this book is rereading reviews of it. It seems that more than a few reviewers didn’t finish reading it and covered their retreats with bluster. One or two actually admit to skimming. Malcolm Jones of Newsweek arguably takes the best approach and serializes his review in an attempt to keep pace with the novel: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15771953/...Having lived with this book for three months, I can’t imagine reading it on a deadline. It’s accessible even if one doesn’t run all of the references to ground, but I would recommend savoring it and doing a little bit of reference legwork. If it touches on a subject you happen to relish, you will find plenty of delightful in-jokes and references. But even without a compass, you can appreciate this wild and wide-ranging ride, by turns hilarious and horrifying, intimate and cosmic. For those interested in Pynchon’s meta-fictional innovations, a running theme of doubling is woven through the book, along with the material symbol of doubling, Icelandic spar, which acts as a sort of mystical lens. Toward the end of the novel, the narrative splits off into an alternate fictional “reality,” one in which we discover the destinies of the major characters as they unfold there. Even in this alternate reality, one character makes an escape into yet another reality, where he is informed that he just returned from Shambala. Fans of the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics will find much to enjoy here. As long as Against the Day is, I didn’t find myself wanting to skim pages or eager for it to be over. I savored the experience to the very last page, enjoying Pynchon’s ability to conjure so much in this play of light and darkness. Ultimately, the experience of reading becomes lysergic, phantasmagorical and transcendental. The novel, like Biblical Leviathan, swallows you whole and spits you out, exhausted but happy to be alive, on some strange beach.

Adam

A cannibal who thinks he and everyone else is a Jelly Donut, a soothsayer who gleans his knowledge from gazing into the depth of toilet bowls, a hydrogen ship, true worshippers of the ineffable tetractys, a lot of sex, a lot of mathematical talk, tesla coils, evil capitalists, anarchists, and a cute dog named Pugnax who likes to read Henry James. This book is long, sprawling, occasionally difficult, and delectable.

Tosh

Hardy Boys meets Jack Parsons. I am only half-way through this book, and I have been reading it off and on for a year. If you can bring only one book with you on an extremely dull island - this is it.The beauty of the book is that it is sort of a young boy's adventure story, but mixed in with arcane history of early 20th Century life. I think it is meant to be read slowly. The scene where the girl is lead to the corner where the four states meet up is hysterical and really sexy. It even has good porn in it!

Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

One thousand two hundred twenty (1,220) pages in fine print, a high 4.04 average rating in goodreads. Let's see first the metaphors and what-nots it provoked among the brave souls who had read and reviewed it:1. Mikey Stewart (3 stars) - (his first sentence): "Good lord, where to start?"2. Oriana (5 stars) - "It's like, instead of reading a book, you're like reading a chunk of a river...this one is like a million rivulets, each slipping overunderthrough one another, that you follow for a second, or a couple (of) pages, until they go back under and get lost in the general cacophony..."3. Jim Ruland (5 stars) - "...like long shots of ants scurrying about in an ant farm..."4. Marcus Mennes (5 stars) - An "onslaught."5. Guy (4 stars) - It's about LIGHT."6. Lee Worden (5 stars) - "I don't really get what he's up to with all the different kinds of light..."7. Daniel (5 stars) - "(Pynchon) ends up hollowing out parts of your brain and building his own theme park there..."8. Cynthia (5 stars) - "(Pynchon) just keeps on going until, I guess, either he gets exhausted or his publisher makes him turn it in or, I dunno, his printer breaks down."9. Steve Aydt (5 stars) -"...like Biblical Leviathan, swallows you whole and spits you out, exhausted but happy to be alive, on some strange beach."10. Mark (5 stars) - "...I let the words cascade into my brain and realize that no one does it quite like Pynchon."11. Michael (5 stars) - "Pynchon's homage to the 19th century dime novel..."12. Eddie Watkins (5 stars) - "...it's like reading a massive young-adult novel..."13. Nate Dorr (4 stars) - "...full of references that fly straight by me..."14. Andy (5 stars) - "A joyful and ecstatic clusterfuck..."15. Tony (4 stars) - (after writing his review): "This is a mess, I'll have to clean it up a bit..."16. Darrell (5 stars) - "...enjoyable even if much of it goes over your head."17. Phillip (5 stars) - "...in another sense--(this) book never ends..."18. Matt (4 stars) - "This was my summer reading project, and it took most of the summer."19. Geoff Sebesta (4 stars) - "...reading this book reminds me of wading through brains...It's designed to hurt your head..."20. F.R. Jameson (4 stars) - "...feels like a doorway into the wild imagination of a brilliant conjurer."21. Snotchocheez (2 stars) - "... one gigantic headache-inducing mess."22. Will Layman (4 stars) - (after his introductory spiel): "...what follows is impossible to summarize..."23. Cary Barney (3 stars) - "...(while reading it) there are times you wonder why you're doing this to yourself. Pynchon had material for at least four novels here and unfortunately opted to throw it all into a blender."24. Nat (5 stars) - "I am, at heart, a reader of the slow & persistent ilk, so spending 11 months with this tome was almost like fostering a relationship with another person."25. Joe Hunt (3 stars) - "I still haven't finished this book! But I've had for like two years. Hyrum, my brother, gave it to me. I really like it!"If these guys and girls had been paying attention they would not have tortured themselves writing a review of this novel because Thomas Pynchon himself has a review of this, buried practically incognito on page 956 of my copy. Here Vlado gave to Yashmeen a book entitled "The Book of the Masked" and Pynchon describes it like he would have described this novel:"(Its) pages were filled with encrypted field-notes and occult scientific passages of a dangerousness one could at least appreciate, though more perhaps for what it promised than for what it presented in such impenetrable code, its sketch of a mindscape whose layers emerged one on another as from a mist, a distant country of painful complexity, an all but unmappable flow of letters and numbers that passed into and out of the guise of the other, not to mention images, from faint and spidery sketches to a full spectrum of inks and pastels, of what Vlado had been visited by under the assaults of his home wind, of what could not be paraphrased even into the strange holiness of Old Slavonic script, visions of the unsuspected, breaches in the Creation where something else had had a chance to be luminously glimpsed. Ways in which God chose to hide within the light of day, not a full list, for the list was probably endless, but chance encounters with details of God's unseen world."Read it again.For that would be the common experience you'll have in its paragraphs and passages so that with the rereading you'll be doing the novel could very well become like 2,000 pages and not just 1,220.Now, why have I rated this 5 stars? Because of its last seven paragraphs. Seven paragraphs the meaning of which I do not know, which I can't say I understand, full of the usual impossibilities and exaggerations, the simultaneous pregnancies, of the balloon-ship which has grown as big as a city, the talking dogs, the dog who reads Henry James, the scientific mumbo-jumbo, the trips to nowhere, all these--for reasons I do not know--had left me misty-eyed:"One day Heartsease discovers that she's expecting a baby, and then, like a canonical part-song, the other girls one by one announce that they are, too."And on they fly. The ship by now has grown as large as a small city. There are neighborhoods, there are parks. There are slum conditions. It is so big that when people on the ground see it in the sky, they are struck with selective hysterical blindness and end up not seeing it at all."Its corridors will begin to teem with children of all ages and sizes who run up and down the different decks whooping and hollering. The more serious are learning to fly the ship, others, never cut out for the Sky, are only marking time between visits to the surface, understanding that their destinies willl be down in the finite world."'Inconvenience' herself is constantly having her engineering updated. As a result of advances in relativity theory, light is incorporated as a source of motive power--though not exactly fuel--and as a carrying medium--though not exactly a vehicle--occupying, rather, a relation to the skyship much like that of the ocean to a surfer on a surfboard--a design principle borrowed from the AEther units that carry the girls to and fro on missions whose details they do not always share fully with 'High Command.'"As the sails of her destiny can be reefed against too much light, so they may also be spread to catch a favorable darkness. Her ascents are effortless now. It is no longer a matter of gravity--it is an acceptance of sky."The contracts which the crew have been signing lately, under Darby's grim obsessiveness, grow longer and longer, eventually overflowing the edges of the main table in the mess decks, and occasionally they find themselves engaged to journey very far afield indeed. They return to Earth--unless it is Counter-Earth--with a form of 'mnemonic frostbite,' retaining only awed impressions of a ship exceeding the usual three dimensions, docking, each time precariously, at a series of remote stations high in unmeasured outer space, which together form a road to a destination--both ship and dockage hurtling at speeds that no one wishes to imagine, invisible sources of gravity rolling through like storms, making it possible to fall for distances only astronomers are comfortable with--yet, each time, the 'Inconvenience' is brought to safety, in the bright, flowerlike heart of a perfect hyper-hyperboloid that only Miles can see in its entirety."Pugnax and Ksenji's generations--at least in every litter will follow a career as a sky-dog--have been joined by those of other dogs, as well as by cats, birds, rodents, and less-terrestial forms of life. Never sleeping, clamorous as a nonstop feast day, 'Inconvenience,' once a vehicle of sky-pilgrimage, has transformed into its own destination, 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. No one aboard 'Inconvenience' has yet observed any sign of this. They know--Miles is certain--it is there, like an approaching rainstorm, but invisible. Soon they will see the pressure-gauge begin to fall. They will feel the turn in the wind. They will put on smoked goggles for the glory of what is coming to part the sky. They fly toward grace."

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