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


Update the second, March 08Well, well, well [she says, much subdued, pensive; not at all her normal, boistrous, effusive self].Here we are, March 1, 2008, and I have just closed the cover of Against the Day.I suppose it's hard to even talk about a tome like this, a thing of this range and scope and breadth. I'd really like to use all the superlatives I can, and then invent new words to describe Pynchon and what he does, because he really is like nothing else ever. In fact, I've been saying that to all my friends over the months I've been ensconsed in this book, that what Pynchon writes are not novels, in any traditional sense, I think. They just flagrantly ignore the rules of structure, and sense, and momentum. If you'll indulge me, I've come up with a sort-of analogy for this. It's like, instead of reading a book, you're like reading a chunk of a river. (Bear with me here.) Whereas normally a book will progress, go beginning-middle-end, this one is like a million rivulets, each slipping overunderthrough one another, that you follow for a second, or a couple pages, until they go back under and get lost in the general cacophony. Lots of the characters even have names like that -- Stray, Reef, Lake, Heartsease, Ljubica (which means 'love'), Ryder -- that just slip through your fingers as you say them, as the characters go somewhere else and you lose track. There are no beginnings or ends to a river (see? I'm bringing it back), you just watch as different bits of it flit by. I mean, how can I read something else now? This book kind of disassembles your concept of reading, of how to read, of how to go through a book. In a way I feel like I should just keep reading this, over and over, for the rest of my reading life. Also, because of all this, 1,085 pages is really nowhere near enough. There is so much more to the lives of these characters! I mean because the book really encompases the whole world, right? So everyone is still living somewhere, in the world between the pages (because, oddly, I don't know that anyone of note actually dies in this book), and I want to know what they do with the rest of their lives, who they go on to love, how they fight, what cities they stumble through, how they find their circuitous destinies. (This is insanely presumptuous, but I think Pynchon might be fond of that thought, since so much is made in this book of people doubling, and living many lives, in and out of the world, or the 'Counter-Earth', or within photographs, or after having Zombini do some kind of spell, or that thing with the Iceland spar, which I don't know if I really get.)I guess I'm babbling. But I think that's fitting too, for this book. I've gotten a lot of different kinds of shit from different friends for my rapturous devotion to Mr. Pynchon. I don't care. I also don't care that this is probably a sort of frustrating review, which doesn't say much at all about the book. I also don't care that there is obvs so much in this book that I didn't get, and would never get, even if I did spend the rest of my reading life on it. I don't care. I am fiercely in love with Against the Day. I am fanatically devoted to Thomas Pynchon. I am so, so thrilled that I read this book.Update, Jan 08 In case anyone's keeping track, I am just a smidge over halfway through this fucker. And as a diversion, I present you with a few random samples of Pynchonery:"Abruptly, sweeping into the scene like an opera singer with an aria to unload, here came 'Mr. Ace,' as he called himself. Glossy black eyes, presented like weapons in a duel. When he smiled, or attempted to, it was not reassuring.""It was all he could do not to reach for her, gather her into some kind of perimiter. But the moisture in her eyes was shining like steel, not dew, and nothing about her trembled.""You could hear faint strands of music, crazy stuff, banjos and bugling, trombone glissandi, pianos under the hands of whorehouse professors sounding like they came with keys between the keys.""Dally's voice was hard to pin down to any one American place, more of a trail voice with turns and drops to it, reminders of towns you thought you'd forgotten or should never've rode into, or even promises of ones you might've heard about and were fixing to get to someday."See? See??First entry, Nov 07wooooo hoooooooooo!!!!!(that's me going down the rabbit hole, as it were, into the depths of Pynchonalia)Also, it's so convenient that the folios of this book are such that there are five blank pages at the back. Now I can (with no shame whatsoever) keep a list of all the characters! How the hell else am I going to make it through a 1,085-page monstrosity?

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.


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:[])


As always with Pynchon the total lack of an ending or conclusion can be a bit frustrating, but at this point I'm over it. As usual, a sprawling, encyclopedia of a novel, with so many intertextual references the head spins (a short initial list would include: H.G. Wells, Artaud, B. Traven, Hemmingway, Kipling, etc etc.). Loosely structure around the adventures of the Traverse family following the murder of their father, a coal-miner and anarchist militant, in the Colorado Labor Wars of the last decade of the 19th century. If I were to grasp one theme of this book, I suppose, it would be that it grapples with the death of the Victorian era, and with it the era's faith in progress, science and the forward trajectory of mankind, the broad cultural malaise which we still inhabit. Another theme, I think, is the closing of the "frontier" - whether that frontier is the physical one of the American West, the Arctic Circle, and Central Asia; the mental frontier of science, mathematics and physics; or the political frontier of socialist, anarchism and working-class revolution, the book seems to work with the collapse of possibilities in the late 19th century with the end of what, we could perhaps, call the 'heroic era' of Western culture.A joyful and ecstatic clusterfuck to be sure.

Gus Sanchez

Phew! I started reading this on March 18th, and finished it yesterday afternoon, all the while concentrating on no other books except this one. And I'm glad I did.As a Pynchon fan, my expectations were quite high. Reading Pynchon is not for everyone, and it is very demanding. It's also very rewarding. Simply put, Thomas Pynchon will confuse, startle, impress and infuriate you, and sometime make you groan with his penchant for bad puns, but he'll never bore you.I won't bother you with the details surrounding the plot to this story; I wouldn't be able to bring it any justice. Let's just say all the hallmarks of Pynchon's writing are evident here - a cast of characters that would make Cecil B. DeMille furious with envy, references to historical events both famous and obscure, songs, mathematics, plot twists, time travel, and bad jokes. More or less, Against the Day is something of a detective story, and the detectives are a myriad of characters chasing (or being chased by a) destiny. One can even make the inference that Against the Day is the prequel to Pynchon's most famous work, Gravity's Rainbow.Again, Pynchon is not for everyone, and if you're a beginner reader of his work, you're better off starting with V. or The Crying of Lot 49, and working your way up. As far as Pynchon's work is concerned, I'd put this right next to Gravity's Rainbow as his most accomplished, rewarding, and *GASP!* accessible novel.


When judging the work of one of your favorite novelists, it is important to keep in mind that there is a difference between that author's best work and your personal favorite work of an author. An author's best work has to be decided differently. What does this author do well? What separates him from the rest of the world's novelists?With that said, Gravity's Rainbow is probably Pynchon's best work (or, arguably, V). But Against The Day is definitely my favorite. This is the kind of book that messes with your head, but in a good way. This is the kind of novel that forces you to reconsider all the five stars you've ever given. You're going to want to go back and give all the five stars four stars instead because none of those books are as good as this one. I was forced to read this book in small chunks. I read the first four hndred pages straight through and then took a break, reading a good fifty pages or so between other novels. I need a break every now and again from Pynchon's dense prose. However, dense though it may be, it's a breathtaking work. Very funny, plenty more accessible than previous works, and chock full of remarkable characters (the Chums of Chance are a particular favorite of mine).


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.


Some adjectives to describe ‘Against the Day’: Historical; futuristic; fantastical; gritty; witty; epic; adventurous; philosophical; lusty, scientific; learned; surreal; dense; playful; sociological; hallucinogenic; relentless; ambitious; funny, theological and licentious.Some areas touched upon by ‘Against the Day’: Quantum mathematics; European anarchy; American anarchy in the old west; English anarchy of a sort Conrad wouldn’t quite recognise; Boy’s Own Stories; the union movement; families; betrayal; cartography; geology; bilocation; World War I; mayonnaise; time travel; crystals; explosives; art; show business; applied mechanics; The Fourth Dimension; the afterlife; telepathy; The Russian Revolution; The Mexican Revolution; private detectives; the behaviour of Franz Ferdinand; revenge, cricket; Jack the Ripper; Tunguska 1908; secret cities; the Trans-Siberian Express; sex and desire; secret government organisations; talking plants; and the origins of West Ham United.This is an extraordinary book which really does deserve the title ‘Epic’. Sprawling across many years and with a wide range of characters, ‘Against the Day’ feels like a doorway into the wild imagination of a brilliant conjurer. It starts with the heroic crew of the airship Inconvenience, known as ‘The Chums of Chance’, they fly across the world – and sometimes through it and even onto a Counter Earth – performing great deeds of daring-do. (One of the conceits I particularly liked is that their adventures are collected together elsewhere in a different set of books hugely popular in a parallel universe.) In the first hundred pages or so they meet a group of characters whose lives we then follow, as well as some other characters they themselves come in contact with.If I had a criticism it’s that I’m not sure it all pulls together as a whole at the end, but the ride to get there is extremely satisfying. This is a very long book and clearly won’t be to everyone’s tastes. But I never thought that any of the chapters, or characters, or the strange little vignettes spun out with intelligent whimsy, were in anyway dull or tedious or somehow pointless. For all its length and big ideas, this is a genuinely entertaining – if demanding – read.

Leo Robertson

Is it ok if I get a lil’ pretentious on your asses?(What am I talking about, this is a Pynchon review, it’s almost compulsory! In fact, the above could be P’s tagline- I’ll call his agent and set up an… oh yeah, I forgot.)Reading this book is a lot like travelling along the Riemann zeta function that Pynchon seems so fond of. Locally, we travel small coherent distances, moving round a logical path, but when we zoom out and observe the story globally, we see how convoluted and complex it really is. Cutting a vertical cross-section through the function, we'll see the same sets of characters and storylines sometimes, but a lot of empty space where we're on our own. You can read tens, twenties of pages of this book that are like small packets of story that make sense, but go any further and you’ll get completely lost. Here we see Pynchon older (I didn’t say mature), more relaxed, and off drugs, and so are his characters for the most part. Also they’ve stopped multiplying, in more than one way: there’s only 100+ of them instead of the 400+ of Gravity's Rainbow for eg., and they have significantly less sex (thankfully- TP’s ‘lovemaking’ scenes make Fifty Shades look like marital missionary!) Sometimes, when they make a second, third? What? Fourth appearance? You even remember their names! Great! Those were exactly the changes I wanted from GR, and yet I still like GR more, only because of its more enjoyable settings as well as my own stubbornness and first Pynchon nostalgia (oh, last year! How long ‘twas ago lawl)Still we see his traditional format of writing from a talent tower above all other novelists, but with his mind in the gutter. Also you’ll read familiar themes of predestination, the futility of war, unconventional love, yadda yadda and plenty of silly songs too. Spoiler alert: not a single kazoo this time!Although I did find the ijk, vector, quaternion chat (and Tesla cameo was stoopid) a bit aimless and reminded me of my least favourite Pynchon trait, the interjection of showy-off academic chat that almost deliberately excludes you from having fun with him. Yeah, Joyce’s ideal reader was himself, but that wasn’t a good thing, dude (or wazzit or wizzit I gettit). Nonetheless, it’s hard not to be charmed by big P’s playful genre-hopping neither- boy’s adventure novel runs into hardboiled crime begets… is that supposed to be Henry James? At least this time you can celebrate your own cleverness as well as his. And some sections could even be described as… sweet. Good on you mate. I’ll read the rest, too :D


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.


During those simpler, happy times (the Democrats assumed control of the House and matters appeared to be changing)I pre-ordered the novel with my happy local bookseller. It arrived really early, well before its publication date and I was four thousand miles away from home.The bulky block of lore was scooped upon return. My friends had selected Against The Day for our winter read and I read the novel in two lengthy slogs, finding it necessary to reread several sections. Some of my friends weren't as ecstatic. I still found the Chums of Chance an ace device for observing a world spinning out of control: for the first decade of the 21st Century as well as their own. Our expectations will always be thwarted. The system will encircle our most valued motives and commodify such. This will continue until heat death snuffs out the flame. Entropy and Ossification remains Pynchonian archtypes and much of this is explored here through scattered paternity and the menace of mechanization. I bought a copy a few years ago for my wife's sister during a most happy christmas and I have pondered since that the novel certainly DEMANDS a second reading. We shall see.


One day I’ll get around to writing a review for this, my favorite book I’ve read, I’m part of small group of people, a group of readers that have read all off Thomas Pynchon’s novels, I should be happy that I reached this accomplishment, and I am, but also depressed about the whole thing, “Against The Day” and all of Thomas Pynchon’s work were the ultimate escape from the soul sucking, bleak, horribly lost, greed filled , over sensationalized media era of time we call now, it’s why I read so much I hate the modern world so much and the only reason I don’t cut my wrist or jump towards a speeding bus is because I know you only have one life. I feel like a MLB pitcher that won Game Seven of the World Series, he knows that no other game he plays from now on will feel as good as pitching in that game, reading that book…

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 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.


I really enjoyed this book, actually more than any of his others. I won't say it's "better" because I've never taken the time to try to understand the complexities that people like so much about Gravity's Rainbow. Maybe Against the Day is just easier. But I don't think so. The tone is lighter, even though it's about the the end of the world, in a sense - the collapse of the old world order in the runup to the first world war, which Pynchon paints as the moment when the window of revolutionary possibility of the Wobblies and free thinkers of all kinds closed, and the 20th century of bureaucratized mass slaughter and hopeless modern realpolitik began. It's very dark. But at the same time he's drawing it as a joyful time, full of a sense of possibility for a different world. By the time our heroes complete their escape from Bosnia all that possibility is gone, but it's not by accident that he's written this detailed, loving portrait of revolutionaries in Chiapas and international anarchist travelers, at the end of the 1990s, if you want to look at it that way. It's about creating possibilities here and now.The women characters are a whole lot more sympathetic and more respectfully written than in the older books. The action and humor are up to his standard. It's lots of fun to read. I don't really get what he's up to with all the different kinds of light, but maybe someone will fill me in.


Like all Pynchon novels I've ever read, this one completely defies encapsulation. I can either wave my arms helplessly and mumble "you should just read it" or I can say "this book was about X and Y" and then feel all dirty, like I have to write to the author and formally apologize. Like most of Pynchon's work, Against the Day doesn't have your typical central plot followed by a small group of protagonists. Instead, there are broad themes embodied by a large cast of irregularly-appearing characters. This really, really works for him, since the themes he writes about are usually too big to fit inside the experience of just a few people. There are other Pynchon hallmarks too: his usual themes of science, anti-establishment sentiment, paranoia, and the unexplored/unexplained are all present. People do crazy drugs and have weird sex. It's a wild, organic novel, and you'll feel right at home if you've read Mason and Dixon or Gravity's Rainbow. (Oh hey, you should read Mason and Dixon and Gravity's Rainbow.)This particular book deals with the general state of the world around the time of the first World War. The thing is, there's almost no space in this 1085-page tome devoted to boys in the trenches - the war itself. The consequences of the war are definitely felt by many of the characters, especially the ones stuck in eastern Europe right around 1914, but this is not quite a novel about World War I. The book deals much more directly with some of the other major landmarks of the turn of the last century. So since talking about themes ends up giving a clearer impression of the book than talking about plot, here are some things Pynchon wants us to think about: The Michelson-Morely experiment was performed in 1877 and fundamentally changed the way people perceived space - no more luminiferous aether. The late 19th century also marked a shift in mathematics from Hamilton's quaternion system to a description of space based on vectors. The first forays into powered aviation (airships, not airplanes) and industrialization were happening in the late 1800s. And finally, this time period saw the beginning of the modern labor movement. Consider the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, the 1886 Haymarket Massacre, or the 1892 Homestead Strike.This last subject deserves a few words for itself because this is how the book kicks off. A century ago, labor relations was a deadly serious thing. Workers struck because they were being paid less than nothing to perform life-threatening, back-breaking work. In response to a strike, workers could expect to be beaten or shot by state militias, the national guard, armed pinkertons, or (in the case of the Homestead strike at least) huge government-incited vigilante groups. This is the environment in which the book opens. Webb Traverse is an agitating, anarchist mine engineer working for Scarsdale Vibe, a 1900s-era ultra-capitalist poster boy. To deal with Traverse, Vibe hires a few killers who come for him in the night. A large part of the book is devoted to following the Traverse children as they part ways and grow up, with their lives significantly shaped by this visceral, bloody, and very personal conflict between workers and owners. Another major (and totally great) thrust of the book follows the Chums of Chance, a group of boy adventurers who pilot a powered airship. They never seem to get older but they, like the Traverse family, sort of kind of stay tangentially involved in world events simply by being in certain places at certain times. The Chums of Chance are jointly and severally awesome and a fantastic capstone to the turn-of-the-century aesthetic of the novel.Pynchon has a revolutionary imagination and this book overall was extremely fun to read. The hitch is that this book is 1085 pages of Pynchon. (And I just realized that, as a consequence, this review is huge too...) There really is something to be said for a reading experience so prolonged and intense that the author ends up hollowing out parts of your brain and building his own theme park in there. The tradeoff, of course, is that this is not a book you can read casually. You can't just read five pages every night while you're falling asleep - I tried that for a while and got nowhere. It takes sustained effort. It's corny and cliche to say this, I know, but Against the Day is most definitely one of those books that gives back as much as you're willing to put into it.I loved this book and when I was finished with it I felt really good about everything in general. If you already know you like Pynchon or if you're up for a challenge, I strongly, strongly recommend this book.

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