The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
The Crying of Lot 49 is a novella by Thomas Pynchon first published in 1966. Some describe this novella as being an ‘exemplary postmodern text’ while others describe it as an ‘outright parody of postmodernism’. I personally don’t have a cooking clue as to which of those two labels best fits this book but it does seem to have stirred people which is surely a good thing. It nevertheless seems reviews of The Crying of Lot 49 were polarised and Pynchon in 1984 agreed with those who spoke negatively of his book when he was quoted as saying:
“As is clear from the up-and-down shape of my learning curve, however, it was too much to expect that I’d keep on for long in this positive or professional direction. The next story I wrote was The Crying of Lot 49, which was marketed as a ‘novel,’ and in which I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I’d learned up until then.”
The blurb on GoodReads describes the novella as:
“Suffused with rich satire, chaotic brilliance, verbal turbulence and wild humor, The Crying of Lot 49 opens as Oedipa Maas discovers that she has been made executrix of a former lover’s estate. The performance of her duties sets her on a strange trail of detection, in which bizarre characters crowd in to help or confuse her. But gradually, death, drugs, madness and marriage combine to leave Oedipa in isolation on the threshold of revelation, awaiting the Crying of Lot 49.”
While reading the Wikipedia article it was mentioned that Pynchon attended Cornell University where he may have at least audited Vladimir Nabokov’s Literature 312 class which I found interesting. Apparently Nabokov himself didn’t remember Pynchon but Nabokov’s wife, Véra, “recalls grading Pynchon’s examination papers, thanks only to his handwriting, “half printing, half script”. The year before Pynchon graduated Nabokov published his novel Lolita in the U.S.
I find myself quite intrigued by this book and it has been added to my TBR. I want to read this weird and wonderful book for myself. What really convinced me were the words of Edward Mendelson in his article Pynchon’s Mrs Dalloway:
“When that book appeared in 1966, most of the reviews dismissed it as trivial and annoying, a judgment that its author seems to share. Pynchon’s first novel, V. (1963), moved and awed me when I read it as a teenager, but the reviews discouraged me from reading his second one. Then, one day, I needed a book to get me through a two-hour train trip, so I gave The Crying of Lot 49 a try. Having bought a copy in Penn Station, I read it on the train without stopping, occasionally reminding myself to breathe. That night, on the return trip, I read it again.”
I get the feeling that whether we end up loving it or hating it, it will still leave a mark which I find most interesting. Have any of you read this novel and want to share your thoughts? I’d love to hear what more people think of this novella.