You: What are you reading? Is that a book about rockets (referencing the schematics on the cover)?
Me: No. Yes. Well, it is a book with rockets in it. The rockets are kind of a character that make their first appearance in the opening line with “a screaming … across the sky” as one of many German V2 rocket crashes into a theater of London, or the theater of London, penetrating the map, flying faster than the speed of sound, capable of exploding before the victims hear the explosion.
You: Oh, OK, so it is a war book? Kind of like Catch 22?
Me: Yes, but, well, um, the war is just a part of it. The book is also about the impact of a map that shows the rockets’ distribution: a secret unit of psychological warfare has determined that the rocket distributions coincide with the map of sexual exploits by an the American Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop. This lascivious lieutenant Slothrop, may have been psychologically conditioned while just a baby, through Pavlovian methods, to develop an erection to certain non-sexual stimuli. Unbeknownst to Slothrop, that conditioning was extinguished in his childhood but, now, during the war, he is developing these unexplained erections, and an undercover English espionage unit determines that Tyrone’s preterite hard-ons coincide with the location of the Nazi V2 strikes in London. The White Visitation (the secret unit of psychological warfare) is following Slothrop, studying him, and setting up sexual exploits for Slothrop to determine the pattern of the next rocket strike.
Me: But that is just part of it. This isn’t just a pseudo-erotic war novel, it is a prosaic romp of encyclopedic proportion that touches upon everything from behavioral determinism to Zodiac fortune telling, from mathematical statistical analysis to drug induced hyper-paranoia, from innocent romanticism to raunchy sadism, and includes over 400 characters, all with unique back-stories each with apparently an insignificant significance in the Pynchonian universe. It is widely considered a difficult novel because of its depth, use of long-dead slang, and accurate references to all things including chemistry, engineering design, biological and psychological theory, and above all historical reference. This is really a historical novel, but it is history of World War II Europe viewed through the lens of the 1970’s Vietnam era, with a distorted but factual perspective grounded in an unreal reality. It is above all, a widely humorous novel that includes a battle with giant octopus, an over-enlarged Adenoid gland that swallows city blocks, and long digressions about the horrible taste of English candies. But despite its many humorous digressions, it is a novel that demands the reader’s close attention because it is laced with shifts in time and location and an inattentive reader may find him or herself suddenly 300 years in the past and 2000 miles away within just a few paragraphs of the previous action. Pynchon is a master of prose, and an attentive reader will get lost in the tightly woven prosaic formulas that transport the reader in the arching and archaic flow of language. It is one of my favorite novels that I read for part of my English thesis so many years ago and have finally decided to revisit and get lost in once again.
“What if [Roger]’s whole generation have turned out like this? Will Postwar be nothing but “events,” newly created one moment to the next? No links? Is it the end of history?” (56)