Book Review: Gravity’s Rainbow

y Thomas Pynchon 1973

Dystopian and hopeless
Post modernist

Feels to me like the direct descendant of Ulysses by James Joyce, but with much bigger scope

Very Matrix-like, we are cogs in the machine

Paranoia, identity, physicality and intellectual

I could not find a character in the book was was acting on his or her own impulses…I coined a word

Before any of the characters were able to make choices, all possibilities were preselected by institutional non personal systems. Even the most primal choices of reflexive sexual desire was manipulated by impersonal and uncaring institutional forces. The intention of those institutions was not for the benefit of the individual. The individual was irrelevant for anything but experimental observation and potential use…like a cog in a machine.

Desires, aspirations and love for the characters are an unnecessary side effect of their purpose as unnecessary and embarrassing as a fart.

But let’s talk about the Plot and the characters briefly.

Slothrup, an American LT working in the UK for allied intelligence, and he is under observation by the firm he works for because of a connection between his erections and the V-2 rockets explosions.
Slothrup has already been noticing this trend, that everytime he has sex with a woman a bomb invariably lands at that spot.

—I’ll be honest I thought this was some kind of masculine fascination that the story would get past…I kept reading in the hope that this stupidity would pass. Really? A sci-fi fantasy that when this mane ejaculated a real bomb went off? Aggrandizement much?…But then I realized it was not a distraction…It was the whole story.

So what’s the story? Lt. Tyrone Slothrup (whose name is kind of an anagram for Entropy, the tendency to devolve into chaos) is trying to figure out what is happening…beginning of the story is him noticing a pattern, wondering if he is paranoid. How could he not be paranoid? But he discovers that his workplace…the allied intelligence…has him under observation for this connection he hold between the bombs and his erections

It appears he is not paranoid enough

A lot of this book is comedy—for the right sense of humor laugh out loud funny. It’s absurd and ridiculous. I think it’s a masculine kind of humor, I did not laugh. I did see that it was there, but sadly it didn’t make me laugh. Possibly because none of the characters were likeable, only pitiable.

In the heriod tradition, He does eventually go on a foggy quest to find out more about this weird connection between his sexual impulses and bombs going off. His travels/adventures reminded me of James Joyce Ulysses, although the scope was much broader, geographically, across time and with difference characters. Ulysses was rooted in physical reality. I could recreate the walk though the very real city of Dublin.

Pynchon’s gravity’s rainbow has a fictional geographay, like Catch 22. The action takes place in the psyche

He is pushed and pulled through this landscape, meeting people and exploring more of his questions. He and the plot focus in on the very first V2 rocket…with it’ specific serial number. This special rocket is held in reserve.

Through these travels. Slothrup knows his identity even though others mistake it because of the uniforms he has to wear (English, german, rocket man, rusian officer, pig)
His pig costume is worn by someone else, who gets attacked and castrated by actors who are intent on castrating HIM, but they are fooled by identifying as his costume instead of himself
Were they castrating slothrup to stop the bombs from falling?
Very backwards, and even so they got it wrong.

The sexual scenes in this book are perverse. Graphic and nearly constant. The book did win the National book award in 1974, and the Pulizter committee REALLY wanted to give it their award so bad, but drew back because of the description of sexual Fecal play. This institution played exactly along with the themes of the book by not awarding any litererary prize that year, annihilating itself in appreciation of this black hole of a book.

This book has layers upon layers of very important themes that can be explored. I don’t have the energy to go very deep.

For being the most masculine book I’ve ever read, this book does not have any male characters or characteristics I admire. No desire, no aspiration. All the characters are acted upon, not actors. Even the actions they do take are mostly facilitating the institutions’ broader manipulation and control of themselves and others.

Because of this, it’s very very relevant. The world has become more de-personal than ever. Pynchon was prescient in his description. Like the matrix the individual is reduced to a consumable material. I see in many places a war not just on individual thought, but on individuals themselves.

The idea of our sexual impulses being controlled and tracked by non-personal institutions is as relevant to today as the watch on my wrist.

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