"The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon

Indeed a very strange book, very much in the same vein as his debut novel “V” with it’s linguistic puns, sense of the absurd and biting satire of mid-20th century. I didn’t think this novel was as good as his debut but there’s a lot going on underneath all the chaos. And that’s just the point. It’s a book about cultural chaos, the problem of communication, and in some ways a commentary on the then rising drug culture. Published in 1965, there are a lot of pop cultural references and I wonder, being that this was written around the same time when Pop Art was at its peak, if this is somehow akin to that. Could be? I can’t really say but there is a definite obliteration of the line between “high” and “low” culture here, which was one of the things that Pop Art aimed to do. It’s all a chaotic soup and it works brilliantly. Many contemporary writers who have taken this cue from Pynchon just don’t quite get it as right as he does. But it’s clear that this is one aspect of his influence on many authors who came after him.


The story is about a woman, Oedipa Maas, executor of the estate of a man named Peter Inverarity, who finds herself thrown into a seemingly world wide conspiracy when she discovers a symbol in the bathroom of a club: a muted horn, which was also the symbol of a private postal service, which was in competition with the United States Postal Service since the days before the Civil War. There is a play, in which the name Trystero is mentioned, that has something to do with this symbol and Oedipa goes on a quest to discover its meaning, then finding herself immersed in what is nothing short of chaos, confusion and things not being what they appear to be. You just have to read this to truly follow it. I can’t do it any justice here.


Often times the book is hilarious with its use of linguistic puns, such as some of the character’s names: Ghengis Cohen, Michael Falliopian, the lawyer Manny DiPresso, the town name of San Narcisco---a commentary on Californian subculture?---and the radio station at which Oedipa’s husband “Mucho” Maas works, KCUF (Spell that backward).


Throw in a psychiatrist (a former Nazi a Buchenwald who prided himself on driving patients insane by mere facial expressions) who gives his patients LSD, a Beatle-esque rock group, corporate intrigue and a scientist who invented a machine that can only work if someone is a “sensitive” and I think you get the idea.


There were times where I lost the plot but I eventually came around again. Ultimately, this is a novel about the need to impose order on disorder as well as the need to impose meaning on the meaningless. Could that be exactly what he wanted people to do with this novel?


Highly recommended.

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