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Reviews of Gravity's Rainbow (1973)

Review by islander255 (2007-08-22)
Whew... how to review "Gravity's Rainbow"? Perhaps a preparation would be better. I wouldn't suggest you read this book on the fly, because I doubt you'd get through it unless you really wanted to.

"Gravity's Rainbow" would be impossible to describe in one word, but if I had to, I might use the word "difficult". This book has a cast of literally hundreds, all spread throughout a dozen different storylines that intertwine in ways that are often confusing and/or far-reaching. The story is told in present tense, except in flashbacks, but even those eventually switch from past tense to present tense again. The story often takes third-person points of view, but will sometimes switch to second-person(!?!?), which is highly discombobulating for the poor reader.

If you still want to read this story, prepare ahead of time. Read at least one other Pynchon novel. For me, it was "The Crying of Lot 49", which I love to pieces. That's probably the best starting point for a Pynchon newcomer. Once you've read enough Pynchon and you think you're ready to tackle "Gravity's Rainbow", make sure to actually commit yourself to the novel. 10 pages of light reading before bedtime won't cut it. I myself made it a goal to get through at least 50 pages a day, if not more. Then, because it was all pretty confusing, I went online and found a site that gave me a summary of each section of the book. In this way, I was able to stay on track most of the time and I didn't get lost. I also bought a two-pound bag of Jelly Bellies from BJ's, and I ate them while reading, which is something I always do to help me through long books. Students: unless this is assigned for class, read this over the summer when you have time. If you don't take a single one of these precautions, chances are pretty high that you'll give up within the first hundred pages.

Not to say I didn't like this book. I actually did, in a weird way. It went off on many tangents and often strayed dangerously close to being unreadable, but I still gained pleasure out of it. My favorite storylines are thus:
1) Slothrop and his search to find out about the 00000 rocket, which is the main storyline. This contains quite a bit of the conspiracy theory mysticism that made "The Crying of Lot 49" so fun to read.
2) Roger and Jessica's secret wartime affair. This is a side plot that mostly takes place in parts 1 and 4, but I find it especially touching.
3) The storylines of Ilse and Bianca, both who were born because of the movie "Alpdrucken". Bianca was conceived on the set during a dungeon sex scene, and Ilse was born when her father was aroused by watching that scene. What follows after in their lives is interesting.

Another one-word description of "Gravity's Rainbow" I might be tempted to use is "fetishistic". One review I read said that this story was laced with sex. That's a gross understatement. The sex is really strong, but it's not like the normal graphic sex you might find in a porn novel or in something like "Tropic of Cancer". The sex in this novel is strange and aberrant. There is S&M, coprophilia and urolagnia, an orgy born of pedophiliac lust, consensual pedophilia, castration, bestiality, rape, molestation, etc., etc. All in very graphic, NC-17 detail. This could help some people push through the novel. This could keep other people from getting past page 100. Is it pornography, or does it have some point to it? Well, it had more meaning to it than all the mindless sex in the aforesaid "Tropic of Cancer". It was definitely more imaginative. But was the graphic detail all that necessary?

I must say, though, I'm glad I read this book right before I went into 12th grade AP English. Now I know that, however hard I find my assigned books, none of them will be as difficult as "Gravity's Rainbow". It all puts it into perspective. Oh, and of course this novel is a good one to put on my bragging list (something that all bibliophiles should have).

Final judgment? Well, in 1974 the three-member Pulitzer Prize jury on fiction wanted to give the award to "Gravity's Rainbow", but the other eleven members on the Pulitzer board overturned the decision, labeling this book as "unreadable", "turgid", "overwritten", and "obscene". But this book still won the National Book Award and was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel, and some people consider it to be the greatest work of Postmodernist literature in the 20th Century. The detractors have some very good points, but I don't think I hate this book for it. I still need a couple weeks/months before I can fully decide on my opinion of this novel. But in the meantime it seems that my feelings for "Gravity's Rainbow" fall more towards the positive than the negative.

Should you read this book? That's for you to decide.

Review by johnnyred346 (2006-03-30)
It is impossible to summarize this novel. Suffice to say that it will, in the words of a friend of mine, "make you want to reinvent the English language." The plot: Tyrone Slothrop, an American Navy lieutenant, gets himself wrapped up in a tangled mess which somehow stems from the German V2 rocket at the end of the Second World War. Pynchon drags the reader through a beautifully-imagined world loosely based on reality yet containing historical fact and well-researched settings. Slothrop searches the scorched earth of Post-WW2, continuously unraveling a network of conspiracies; the reader is enthralled, Pynchon brings the narrative to a thrilling climax (and yes, there is a lot of sex laced throughout) only to -- literally -- drop a bomb on the audience.

©Steven Jeffery /, 2017
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