Pynchon’s Paranoid Style

Reviewing Thomas Pynchon’s new thriller Bleeding Edge, Justin St. Clair is unnerved by the novel’s attention to “obscure particulars.” He gets the feeling that the author “must actually be reading us, and, in a way, he is”:

The trick amounts to the literary equivalent of a “cold reading,” a paranoid narrative inducing the same by offering readers a multitude of “relatable” (if meaningless) details.  Primed for paranoia, we personally identify with the occasional particular, and the effect can be unsettling.  My own frisson of familiarity, for what it’s worth, was triggered by a pair of gratuitous Midwestern references:  Duck Creek Plaza in Bettendorf and the Hy-Vee commercial that [protagonist] Maxine’s kids can’t stop singing.  Neither have anything to do with anything, but they’re creepily specific, especially if one was the turnaround for your high school cross country team, and the other, well, you appeared in one of those blasted commercials as a high school bagboy.  Suddenly you’re wondering what the hell Pynchon was doing in the Quad Cities.

Noah Cruickshank praises the book for offering more than just Pynchon paranoia:

Like several Pynchon books, the heart of the conspiracy isn’t really uncovered, but that’s fitting in days like these. Maxi is a ballsy everywoman, buffeted about by forces she only slightly understands. And by placing the story before the NSA surveillance state became commonplace, Pynchon shows its genesis, which amounts to a bunch of very smart people making very stupid decisions. Bleeding Edge argues that everyone is culpable in these eventualities, but it also acknowledges that they may not have been preventable. That acknowledgement is an example of the empathy that runs through the novel (and is sometimes missing from Pynchon’s other work).

David Barrett is likewise caught off guard by the novel’s tenderness:

This relationship between the real world — which Pynchon dubs “meatspace” — and the internet is central to the novel. After September 11, more people find their way into [mysterious virtual world] DeepArcher. Maxine wonders if they’re in retreat from the real world. She picks up a “chill sense that some of the newer passengers [in DeepArcher] could be refugees from the event at the Trade Center”. Pynchon spends very few pages describing New York as the towers come down. He’s far more interested in how the atrocity distorts the public imagination, and over time DeepArcher begins to display the same levels of paranoia Pynchon sees everywhere offline. It’s in this context — amid the twin conspiracies of the internet and meatspace — that the novel considers what kind of future exists for boys like [songs] Ziggy and Otis in such a hostile world.

“There’s no innocence,” Maxine’s father Ernie says in the novel. “Anywhere. Never was.” Maybe so, but Pynchon’s preoccupation with family connections in Bleeding Edge shows that he wants there to be.

Recent Dish on the author and his new book here, here, and here.