Friday, September 30, 2005

Reading "Gravity's Rainbow"

I used to love to read, but over the last few years I have been very busy and gotten out of the habit. But this month's Harper's Magazine had something that inspired me to pick up an old favorite, Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.

Harper's has several selections from Zak Smith's Illustrations For Each Page of Gravity's Rainbow. If you're familiar with Gravity's Rainbow you know that this is a pretty monumental project, due both to the length of the novel (760 pages = 760 illustrations) and due to the subject matter. But from what I've seen so far Zak Smith really captures the mood, tone, and subjects extremely well.

Below is the illustration for Page 6: "Far to the east, down in the pink sky, something has just sparked, very brightly."

Far to the east, down in the pink sky, something has just sparked, very brightly.

It's interesting (given recent events) that the novel starts with an evacuation:
A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.

It is too late. The Evacuation still proceeds, but it's all theatre. There are no lights inside the cars. No light anywhere. Above him lift girders old as an iron queen, and glass somewhere far above that would let the light of day through. But it's night. He's afraid of the way the glass will fall--soon--it will be a spectacle: the fall of a crystal palace. But coming down in total blackout, without one glint of light, only great invisible crashing.
They have begun to move. They pass in line, out of the main station, out of downtown, and begin pushing into older and more desolate parts of the city. Is this the way out? Faces turn to the windows, but no one dares ask, not out loud. Rain comes down. No, this is not a disentanglement from, but a progressive knotting into...

Pynchon's gift for language, scene, paranioa, obscenity, disturbing's all here from the very beginning of this impressive and frustrating work. I've started reading at night after everyone has gone to bed (and in spare moments when I can find the time) and then, the next day, I page through the illustrations for the pages I just read. It's a wonderful new way to explore the novel and also to be reminded of the scenes and "plot." If you're a Pynchon fan I highly recommend it.